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ChronSports' Top 10 of 2018 — No. 9: Duke women's tennis rides dominant play for a trip to the national semifinals

<p>In her senior season, former Blue Devil Samantha Harris led her team to a final four appearance in the NCAA tournament.</p>

In her senior season, former Blue Devil Samantha Harris led her team to a final four appearance in the NCAA tournament.

With the end of 2018 quickly approaching, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest sports stories of the year. Each day, The Blue Zone will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year in Blue Devil athletics.

Coming in at No. 9 on our list: Duke women's tennis uses late season run to advance to the national semifinals for the first time since 2012.

The 2018 spring slate was one of success and near perfection as the Blue Devils were on the brink of advancing to the NCAA Championships.  

Duke entered January after strong fall individual performances in both singles and doubles. For the first time since 1990, the team held the top two ranked doubles pairs. The senior-freshman duo of Samantha Harris and Kelly Chen checked in at No. 1 while the junior tandem and ITA All-American Championship winners Kaitlyn McCarthy and Ellyse Hamlin held the second spot.  

The Blue Devils won their first six matches including a win against fourth-ranked Georgia before falling to North Carolina at National Team Indoors. But after a 6-1 win against N.C. State in its next time on the court, Duke did not drop a match for an entire month, sweeping three ranked opponents and five overall to sit tied atop the conference standings. Then three more 6-1 match victories led to a meeting with then-No. 4 Georgia Tech. After rain forced the match indoors, the Blue Devils fell 4-2.  

The Tobacco Road rematch was set for April 20 and the Friday night match at Ambler Tennis Stadium lived up to the excitement that preceded it for the Blue Devil faithful that attended. Duke not only defeated the top-ranked Tar Heels 5-2, but head coach Jamie Ashworth’s team was a mere five points away from sweeping its rivals.  

After losing the doubles point, Chen, Hamlin and then-sophomore Meible Chi all took 5-0 first set leads before each won their match in straight sets. Hannah Zhao, in only her first semester at Duke, clinched the team victory on Court Six, which also guaranteed the Blue Devils a share of the ACC regular season title. Duke won the regular-season crown outright after sweeping Virginia Tech two days later.  

“The level of play that we played at gives us confidence—the trust in each other and the belief that they have in each other and to know when we put our mind to it, we can compete and challenge anybody in the country. Our conference is so tough. I think it’s something we need to really be proud of and take a moment to step back,” Ashworth said after the Friday night victory. “We want to finish off what we started four months ago and not come out and be flat and be satisfied with anything.”  

After falling in the ACC finals to the Tar Heels in tight battle, the Blue Devils earned the third seed and entered the NCAA poised to repeat the team’s 2009 championship success. After defeating Furman and Oregon at home, Duke advanced to the Round of 16 where it swept Northwestern 4-0.  

Duke took out Texas Tech next 4-1 to progress to its first semifinals since 2012 and ninth in program history. In the final four, Stanford knocked off the Blue Devils 4-2 en route to a national championship.  

“Nothing really fazes [Stanford]. The seeding doesn’t faze them. The conditions don’t faze them. They’re so mentally tough,” Ashworth said after the semifinal matchup. “We’ve done a really good job this year after the doubles point of coming out and winning a quick singles match, and we just weren’t able to do that.”  The 2018 spring slate was one of success and near perfection as the Blue Devils were on the brink of advancing to the NCAA Championships. 

READ MORE on Duke's run to the Final Four 

McCarthy and Hamlin win doubles championship for Duke women's tennis at ITA All-American 

Duke women's tennis loses in semifinals to North Carolina at indoor nationals 

Duke women's tennis tops No. 1 North Carolina to clinch share of ACC regular-season title 

Duke women's tennis comes up short in ACC championship against Tar Heels 

Duke women's tennis continues first-set dominance, advances to first final four since 2012 

Duke women's tennis' championship quest halted by Stanford in national semifinals 

A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown to date:

No. 10: Duke volleyball earns first postseason bid since 2014