After falling to in-state rival North Carolina in the ACC championship marrch, the Blue Devils entered the NCAA tournament this weekend looking to continue their home dominance and advance to the round of 16 for the second consecutive season.
With a 4-0 victory against Furman Friday and a 4-2 defeat of Oregon Saturday at Ambler Tennis Stadium, the No. 3 seed Blue Devils did just that, setting up a matchup with 14th-seeded Northwestern. The pair of victories also clinched Duke’s eighth undefeated home campaign under head coach Jamie Ashworth and extended the Blue Devils home win streak to 27 consecutive victories.
“It took us a little while getting our feet under us,” Ashworth said. “But I was proud of the way we handled ourselves this weekend and having the luxury of being able to play at home is something that we earned with our effort. Overall, it was a great weekend. Against Oregon, it was a battle. They competed as well as anybody we’ve played all year, so we had to rise to the occasion today for sure.”
Friday, the Blue Devils were strong out of the gate, taking the doubles point quickly with consecutive victories on Courts 1 and 2. The No. 9 tandem of Kaitlyn McCarthy and Ellyse Hamlin took down Katarina Kozarov and Aryn Green 6-3 on Court 1, as the sixth-ranked team of Samantha Harris and Kelly Chen clinched the point for Duke with a win against Danni Vines and Katty Weymouth by the same score on Court 2.
On the singles courts, the Blue Devils opted to give Harris half the day off in order to recover from an injury suffered during the ACC tournament. Rebecca Smaller entered the lineup at No. 6 singles, but her matchup would not factor into the scoring, with Duke claiming three dominant victories on the singles courts.
The Blue Devils did not drop a single set in the match, with No. 116 McCarthy defeating Weymouth 6-2, 6-0 on Court 2. No. 28 Chen took down Vines 6-1, 6-1 on Court 3 and Hamlin carried on Duke’s success with a 6-4, 6-0 victory against Carol Elizabeth Kerman on Court 4, which gave the Blue Devils their fourth point—sending them to a second round meeting against the Ducks.
Despite the big victory, Ashowrth felt his team was a little rusty this weekend after a 12-day break for final exams.
“I think for sure we have to raise the level of our play. I think part of that came from not playing, but I think that we need to be a little bit sharper and a little bit crisper,” Ashworth said. “We’ve valued every single point we’ve played and have taken advantage of our opportunities, but I felt we got away from that a little bit today with some loose points and some free points.”
Saturday, the Blue Devils were more heavily tested from the outset.
After splitting the first two doubles matches—Duke's Meible Chi and Hannah Zhao defeated Julia Lilien and Paiton Wagner 6-4 on Court 3 and Oregon’s Alyssa Tobita and Rifanty Kahfiani took down Harris and Chen 6-2 on Court two—McCarthy and Hamlin gave the Blue Devils the early 1-0 advantage with a 6-4 victory against No. 74 Shweta Sangwen and Julia Eshet on Court 1.
On the singles courts, after Duke extended its lead to two with Hamlin defeating Eshet 6-2, 6-3 on Court 5, Oregon rallied back to even the score at two as No. 87 Sangwen beat No. 55 Chi 6-1, 6-2 on Court 2 and Wagner defeated Zhao 6-4, 6-3 on Court 5.
The Blue Devils, however, would soon take the lead for good. Chen defeated Daniela Nasser 6-3, 6-2 on Court 4 and McCarthy followed that up with a 7-6 (3), 6-1 victory over Lilien to send Duke to the tournament’s second weekend.
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And although her singles match did not wind up on the scoreboard, Harris—who was leading 7-6 (3), 4-4 against No. 42 Tobita on Court 1—will be vital in leading the team as a senior and her return to full strength will be essential with tougher competition looming.
“I think it was really important for us to have Sam [Harris] back on the court and healthy because she struggled through the ACC tournament,” Ashworth said. “She was winning her match when we clinched today. I think we’re in a good place as a team.”
With the victory Saturday, the Blue Devils advanced to the round of 16 where they'll take on the Wildcats at 9 a.m. Thursday in Winston-Salem, N.C. at the Wake Forest Tennis Center. The winner of that matchup will face the winner of No. 11 seed Texas Tech and sixth-seeded Texas at noon Saturday.
“We’re playing for the life of this team,” Ashworth said. “Every time we step on the court, if we don’t give it 110 percent, then the life of this team comes to an end. I don’t think anybody wants that, so we have to make sure we’re ready to give it everything in every aspect that we need to on Thursday.”