As record-breaking high temperatures hit the East Coast this week, the competition is heating up for the Blue Devils after notching four straight victories to begin the season.
Following a victory against No. 23 Northwestern for the second time in as many weeks Sunday, No. 10 Duke will travel to New Haven, Conn. to take on No. 5 Georgia in its first match of the ITA national team indoor championships Friday at 6:30 p.m. The event will be held at both the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center and the Tennis and Fitness Center of Rocky Hill, with Yale serving as the host of the single-elimination tournament.
The competition will feature the top 16 teams in the country and offers the Blue Devils (4-0) the chance to see how they stack up with the best teams in the nation.
“It’s a great opportunity for us. It’s a great learning experience to see where we are and things we need to do moving forward,” Blue Devil head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “It’s a good test early in the season for our girls. From a coaching standpoint, it’s an opportunity for us to see where we fit in in that top 16 right now and what kind of work we need to do moving forward.”
Duke enters the tournament riding the momentum of two consecutive wins against a ranked opponent. The Blue Devils received strong performances from several players across the two matches, especially freshman Meible Chi, who is the No. 21 ranked singles player in the nation and remains unbeaten in singles and doubles dual match action.
“We had to rely on some different people over the two weeks,” Ashworth said. “Northwestern is one of the better teams who plays indoors a ton so we want to keep building on where we are and use it as a stepping stone for the rest of the season. Momentum is a huge thing. Those wins gave our team some belief in ourselves and belief in the process.”
But to stay hot, Duke will need improved doubles play against a Georgia team that is undefeated this year as well.
The tandem of Meible Chi and Kaitlyn McCarthy took care of business for the Blue Devils, winning in dominant fashion, 6-0, against Northwestern's Alex Chatt and Maddie Lipp. Despite a furious comeback Sunday from juniors Rebecca Smaller and Samantha Harris—who nearly overcame a 5-2 deficit before ultimately falling short—the other Blue Devil pairs struggled to close out victories.
“We’ve definitely been working on our doubles,” Ashworth said. “We’ve done a really good job of being competitive throughout those matches and giving ourselves opportunities, and now we have to capitalize on those opportunities. In those doubles matches, we just have to close those opportunities out.”
The Bulldogs (3-0) come into the tournament seeded fifth and are coming off a 7-0 thumping of Clemson. Georgia is led by a trio of nationally ranked singles players, including No. 18 Elena Christofi, who has lost just twice since October. Junior Kennedy Shaffer will also be a challenge for the Blue Devils as the Rossford, Ohio, native has given up more than two games in a set just twice in her last five matches.
The Bulldogs also feature a strong doubles lineup that has been tough to beat in 2017. The 27th-ranked duo of Cristofi and Shaffer has been the workhorse for the team and sits at 5-1 overall this season.
“Georgia is always good. They play with a lot of fire and a lot of emotion, and so we’ve done a good job of keeping our emotions on level very high during practice,” Ashworth said. “That’s something that through all our singles one through six and all our doubles one through three are going to have to be able to match.”
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Duke is looking to claim its third victory at the event, with its most recent championship coming in 2014. At the minimum, the tournament should help the Blue Devils place themselves among the top teams in the nation and get an idea of where they stand before getting into the heart of the ACC season.
“We have nothing to lose. Go out there and play free and see what happens,” Ashworth said. “It’s a great opportunity for each one of them individually and for the team.”