With seven consecutive matches against ranked opponents, the Blue Devils have faced numerous tests of discipline and skill.
But Saturday was a test of resilience for Duke—and it passed.
Thanks to three consecutive victories on the singles courts, the 17th-ranked Blue Devils overcame an early 3-1 deficit to upend No. 15 TCU 4-3 and preserve their undefeated home record at the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. The match-clinching win came from senior Chalena Scholl, who rallied from a set down in a grueling three-hour, back-and-forth battle with the Horned Frogs' Olaya Garrido-Rivas to win 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-4.
“In singles we talked about making this our house after the doubles,” Blue Devil head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We had to control the tempo, we had to control by playing with a lot of energy because they're a very high energy team… The longer we could make the match last—well, not for four hours—if we could make the match last, the better off we would be.”
The 38th-ranked Scholl opened her match with a 5-4 edge in the first set, but Garrido-Rivas rallied to take the tight first set 7-6. The second set seemed to follow a similar script, with Scholl losing an early 4-2 lead thanks to another three-game run from the Spaniard.
But this time, Scholl turned the tables and rallied from the brink of defeat at 5-6 to capture the set and push the match to a deciding set. With both teams' fate hanging in the balance, Scholl and Garrido-Rivas went on a game of runs, as Garrido-Rivas went up 4-3 before Duke's senior broke through in the final three games to move to 15-5 on the season.
“We had people out there who really battled through all of their matches,” Scholl said. “I was happy to be the last one on court, but everyone fought through and did a great job… [I] didn't want to let anyone down.”
Although the Blue Devils (6-3) were all smiles at the end of the evening, Duke looked like it was in trouble after dropping the doubles point. The senior duo of Scholl and Alyssa Smith struggled to close out tight games and fell 6-1 to get TCU on the board. The Horned Frogs (6-2) then secured the first point of the match with a 6-2 victory from the tandem of Aleksandra Zenovka and Alexis Pereira against Duke's No. 3 doubles team of Samantha Harris and Rebecca Smaller.
“We came back from national team indoors really happy with how our doubles has progressed, but for the last couple of matches we've been too defensive,” Ashworth said. “We've got to get rid of that mindset and we have to play more in control. We have to be the ones making the first strike, not them. We can't sit back and wait for teams to miss.”
What the Blue Devils lacked in their doubles play, they looked to quickly find in singles.
No. 20 Meible Chi leveled the match with a decisive 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 94 Seda Arantekin on court two. But TCU responded with a narrow 7-5, 6-4 win for Sofiko Kadzhaya against Smaller at the No. 6 spot and a three-set victory for Marie Norris against Alyssa Smith to take a commanding 3-1 lead.
But the Blue Devils did not go down without a fight as sophomore Kaitlyn McCarthy managed to turn around a few rough patches against Zenovka to keep Duke alive with a 7-5, 6-3 victory. McCarthy, ranked 103rd in the nation, trailed by a 5-2 margin in the first set, but found her groove and captured five consecutive games to take control of the match.
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While Scholl was locked in a bitter duel on court three, the attention turned to Harris, who had a chance to level the team score with a victory against junior Donika Bashota. The junior took control early and won the first set 6-3 by using quick returns to take advantage of Bashota’s court positioning.
Nothing would come easy for Harris, though, as she needed multiple extended breaks in the second set and lost her pace en route to a 6-2 defeat. But in a final test of resilience, the Blue Devil found some momentum in the deciding set, cracking through a 2-2 split with a 3-1 run to end the match with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 victory that set the table for Scholl's heroics.
With a physically taxing match behind them, the Blue Devils will have an extended period away from the court before taking on Florida Gulf Coast on March 15.
“We have a good 12, 13 days here,” Ashworth said. “It's a really rare thing to have this break and so we've got to get healthy, get our doubles better, and use this on a conditioning and strength standpoint to prepare for the back half of our season. It's an unusual break that we have but a break that we have to take advantage of for the final six week push of our season.”