It is not often that a team can completely shift its focus in a 10-day span. Coming off a national championship and a semifinal appearance in last week's ITA All-American Championships, Duke will look to convert its success on the doubles side to singles.
The entire Duke team will compete together for the second time this season in the ITA Regionals from Oct. 19-23 down Tobacco Road in Chapel Hill. North Carolina's Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center will host the ITA Carolina Regional, as players from across North and South Carolina look to advance to the ITA Fall Championships Nov. 1-4 in Indian Wells, Calif.
On the doubles front, the Blue Devils have proven why they are a force that most teams will struggle against in the spring season. But this weekend, Duke will attempt to qualify its singles players into the Fall Championships.
“It definitely been a focus change,” Blue Devil head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We did so much with our doubles [at the ITA All-American Championships], and really the last four days out there was only doubles stuff. Our practices have been good.”
Doubles play was stressed in practice through much of the fall and reaped success on the national level, but singles play led the way in practice this week.
“We’ve changed how we’ve done our practices the last week and a half in order to help each girl individually prepare for this, and we have go to much smaller groups rather than having our whole team out here at one time,” Ashworth said. “Really concentrating on two and three people at a time out here and trying to prepare them the best we can and have them ready to play.
“Everyone is excited to play and looking forward to getting back out there. And, for four of them that have already qualified in doubles, they really want to do the same in singles. We have seven people that could do really well this week, so we’re really looking forward to that.”
After the No. 25 junior duo of Kaitlyn McCarthy—who is No. 57 in singles—and Ellyse Hamlin took home the ITA All-American championship, they each enter the main singles draw along with doubles semifinalists in No. 60 senior Samantha Harris—No. 54 in singles—and freshman Kelly Chen. Joining them in the main draw are No. 20 sophomore Meible Chi and freshman Ema Lazic.
The final Blue Devil on the roster, Rebecca Smaller, was awarded the only first-round bye in the qualifying draw and plays the winner of Elon’s Montana Moore and Appalachian State’s Teodora Sevo Thursday in order join her teammates in the main draw.
“I don’t think that we’ve got the results that we necessarily want [in singles],” Ashworth said. “I don’t think that we really have to change much. I don’t think that we have to go out and think that we have to be great on the court.”
In their first doubles appearance together this season, Chi and Lazic will open up as Duke’s only main doubles draw entry Thursday. Chi finished her freshman season with an 18-15 doubles record, including five wins against nationally-ranked pairings. Although neither made the trip out to California to compete in the national championships, Lazic was improving her game on the ITF’s women’s circuit this week in Florence, S.C.
“She hasn’t played and it’s been three weeks since she’s had a match, so I think that she felt that it was important for her to get some match play,” Ashworth said. “She didn’t have a great result, losing [in the second round of the qualifying], but I think that the more matches she can play, the better that she will be. She really wanted to get something under her belt before this coming weekend.”
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McCarthy and Hamlin worked on their singles play this week and enjoyed the benefits of their hard work in doubles. The juniors were chosen as Duke’s Student-Athletes of the Week, making their title even more special, and during the second half of Duke football’s loss to Florida State last Saturday, they were introduced in the north end zone as national champions.
“I was excited for them. They’re both juniors and it was one of their top moments at Duke, they deserved that honor," Ashworth said. "They played a great tournament. They played smart. They’re so close as best friends off the court as well, so it was great for them to share that and represent our team.”
Although Duke is playing on the home courts of its rival that went 17-0 at home in dual matches last year, the Blue Devils have had their share of success in Chapel Hill. Last year's Duke team took the doubles crown on the same Tar Heel courts, as Harris and Hamlin walked away victorious.
On the singles side last fall, Chi advanced to the quarterfinals before falling in three sets to the eventual champion, North Carolina’s Sara Daavettila. Hamlin, Harris, McCarthy and recent graduate Chalena Scholl all bowed out in the third round.
“What we try to tell them—even in practice in the last couple of days—it shouldn’t matter who’s on the other side on the net or where we’re playing. A short forehand is a short forehand. A serve is a serve,” Ashworth said. “If we can do those little things right all the time, it shouldn’t matter where we’re going to play. Outside of UNC’s team, we are more familiar [with these courts] than anybody else playing that tournament.”
McCarthy, Hamlin, Harris and Chen have already qualified for the Fall Championships next month in doubles, and if that success translates to the singles court, Duke might have an entry in the singles draw as well.
“Our good is good enough,” Ashworth said. “We don’t have to be out of this world to win matches and if we can play at a consistently good level, I think the results will take care of themselves.”