At this point in the season, every match represents an opportunity to build the foundations toward something greater.
Coming off a victory against then-No. 9 Oklahoma State in the Bahamas, the fourth-ranked Blue Devils are looking to work on just that. With two freshmen—including one of the best in the nation in singles play in Maria Mateas—joining the mix for a team that reached the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament last season, Duke is hoping to iron out its rotation, specifically in doubles play.
After an 11-day break since their trip abroad, the Blue Devils will welcome Elon for their first home match of the season Wednesday at 3 p.m. at Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. Duke is looking to continue its recent success against the Phoenix, overwhelming them the past few seasons with three straight 7-0 shutouts.
“It shouldn’t matter who’s on the other side of the court, whether it’s Elon or a team that’s ranked No. 1 in the country,” Blue Devil head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We have to play to a certain standard for us to achieve what we want to achieve, and that’s really what our focus has been about.”
Against the Cowgirls, Ashworth opted to start the freshman duo of Mateas and Margaryta Bilokin against the 18th-ranked doubles team in the nation, throwing them into the fire instead of seniors Ellyse Hamlin and Kaitlyn McCarthy, who finished last season as one of the best duos in the country.
Bilokin and Mateas toughed out their first match together in a 6-4 victory, a promising sign moving forward for Duke (1-0).
If they can evolve into one of the Blue Devils’ strongest pairings, they will be tough to best for the doubles’ point and form a strong 1-2 punch with Hamlin and McCarthy.
“Margaryta and I really fit together. Our game styles are really good, and we’ve been getting along as well,” Mateas said. “It’s nice that we’re both freshmen, so we’re kind of going through the same motions.”
In singles, the freshmen experienced different outcomes as they continue to adjust to the dual-match style of play, where players often transition from a doubles match directly into singles. While Mateas had little difficulty dismantling her opponent on Court 1, Bilokin had trouble with one of the better singles player in the country in No. 40 Marina Guinart, dropping her match in straight sets.
Almost certainly, the two talented first-year players will experience their ups and downs this season.
And Ashworth is confident that with each match, Mateas and Bilokin will grow and become more prepared to handle adversity later in the season, especially with teammates boasting tons of experience after last year’s impressive turnout.
“The more comfortable they can get in a team setting long term, the better we’ll be. It’s a different mentality, a different kind of pressure when you’re playing for not just yourself—when you’re playing for 10 other people and a program, a school, that kind of stuff,” Ashworth said. “The more opportunities they have to perform with that kind of pressure on them, long term will be better for us.”
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After Elon (2-2), Duke jumps into a hectic string of weeks concluded by the ITA Team Indoors starting Feb. 8.
But even before then, the Blue Devils know that this part of the season cannot go overlooked.
“I want to see how we are as a team. One of our goals is not just in wins and losses, but to be the best team in the true sense of the word. It’ll be exciting to see where we are as a team as far as supporting each other and playing for each other. It’s all stuff that we’ve talked about, but now it’s time to put it into play.”
Winston Lindqwister contributed reporting.