As the nation’s premiere teams gather this weekend, the ultimate test of the best of the best will be on full display.
No. 8 Duke travels to Madison, Wis., this weekend for the ITA National Team Indoors with the possibility of facing four opponents from Friday to Monday. Against some of the nation’s top players in both singles and doubles, the Blue Devils will get a chance to improve individual and team rankings before ACC dual matches begin later this week. The Blue Devils will kick off the tournament Friday morning at 10 against No. 16 South Carolina at Wisconsin’s Nielsen Tennis Stadium, which also hosted the event two years ago and every year from 1988-2010.
The most recent release of the ITA singles and doubles rankings were published Wednesday. The Blue Devils placed two in the top five on the doubles side and saw three players ranked in the top 100 in singles, with the junior duo of Kaitlyn McCarthy and Ellyse Hamlin staying in the same No. 2 position in doubles. Senior Samantha Harris and freshman Kelly Chen moved down to fifth from holding the top spot in the nation since early January.
On the singles end, Harris will head Duke (4-0) on the leaderboard as she moved from No. 7 to No. 9. Chen moved up 28 places to No. 30 in the country after three wins so far in the dual-match season, as well as a win against No. 27 Ashley Lahey from Pepperdine.
Court 2 Friday morning will likely feature McCarthy, who comes in at No. 65. Hamlin and sophomore Meible Chi have a chance to round out the top five courts in singles for the Blue Devils.
Coming off a win against then-No. 10 Michigan on the road last weekend, the Blue Devils will look to notch more top-10 wins this weekend. But they will first have to go through South Carolina, which holds two ranked singles players of its own. Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth talked about the degree of confidence that the road victory against the Wolverines gives the team, especially given the convincing nature of a 4-1 decision Saturday afternoon.
In the days between events, the Blue Devils did take a moment to celebrate the victory, but then it was back to work with only a few days to prepare for their toughest test of the season to date. Ashworth was impressed by his team's dissatisfaction with the victory and hard work in practice. He described the team as “hungry” to get better.
The 16 teams playing in Wisconsin consist of the 15 ITA Kickoff Weekend champions. The Blue Devils qualified for the draw with victories against Fresno State and Washington. Duke was one of 11 top seeds to advance. Four other ACC teams also made the trip up north, including No. 3 North Carolina, No. 8 Georgia Tech and No. 12 Wake Forest.
The Blue Devils open the weekend off against South Carolina, which will play in this tournament for the first time since the 1999-2000 campaign. The Gamecocks (4-1) and the Blue Devils have seen their fair share of each other in the fall slate, with Duke walking away with victories in six out of the seven matchups in either singles or doubles.
But for the most part, that is not an area of contemplation for the players. According to Ashworth, it is more of a matter of looking at their tendencies himself alongside assistant coach Matt Manasse. McCarthy defeated Mia Horvit—who will likely play at the top of the lineup for South Carolina—4-6, 6-2, 6-2 in October, but Harris will likely face Horvit Friday with a different style of play.
If the Blue Devils want to cement themselves into the top echelon of women’s tennis, a win against South Carolina would help that stance. But the bigger challenge lies in a potential matchup against second-seeded Georgia in the quarterfinals if it defeats Texas in the first round.
A win against the Bulldogs could lead to a semifinal matchup with North Carolina or Texas Tech, both of whom Duke has matched up evenly against against despite being a lower seed. McCarthy and Hamlin defeated a pair from Texas Tech to claim the Riviera/ITA Women's All-American Championships back in November. But the line is thin between a win and loss in Ashworth's mind.
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The top seed for the second time in three years will be Vanderbilt, which knocked Duke out in the first round two years ago. That loss was in the middle of three straight first-round exits. But the last time the Blue Devils were seeded seventh in the main draw was 2014, the year that Ashworth’s team took home the championship.
The opportunity to pick up high-quality wins this weekend can only see the light of day if the team maintains its focus on each match. The Blue Devils can only match the success of four years ago if they go through four of the top teams in the nation, and it all begins Friday morning in the quest to take another step forward.