Duke left no doubt that it is one of the best teams in the ACC and the country heading into the postseason with a dominant sweep to wrap up the regular season Sunday morning.
In their third match in five days, the Blue Devils were in control from the start in singles play against Boston College and won 4-0 at Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center, with the outdoor courts still unplayable after two days of rain. Duke has now won 10 matches in a row and will begin the ACC tournament as the No. 2 seed Friday.
It was the last regular-season home match for seniors Kaitlyn McCarthy and Ellyse Hamlin, though the Blue Devils certainly put together a strong enough year to host the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament in three weeks.
"They’ve been two stalwarts in our program. They’ve done everything that we’ve asked them to do," Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. "Both are tremendously better tennis players than they were when they came into school. Both have emerged as great people and great leaders. Whatever they go on to do on the tennis court or off, they’re going to have great careers."
The Blue Devils (21-2, 13-1 in the ACC) took care of business in a critical match to start their busy week Wednesday night, taking down No. 9 N.C. State (21-5, 10-3) 5-2 at home. After capturing the doubles point with wins on Courts 2 and 3, No. 13 Maria Mateas, senior Kaitlyn McCarthy and freshman Margaryta Bilokin cruised to straight-set victories to clinch the match. Mateas trounced No. 8 Anna Rogers 6-1, 6-2 for her first win against a top-10 opponent since September. Hamlin added a win on Court 3 to the final tally.
Duke followed that up with another convincing 6-1 victory against Syracuse (12-8, 5-8) Friday night at Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center with rain drenching the outdoor courts in Durham. Once again, the Blue Devils found success on the last two doubles courts to secure the first point, and McCarthy quickly wrapped up her 100th career win in singles, becoming the 25th Duke player ever to reach that milestone. The senior lost just two games en route to a straight-set win against Libi Mesh.
Chen, Bilokin and Hamlin weren't far behind McCarthy with wins to clinch the match for Duke, and No. 18 Meible Chi rebounded from a first-set loss to take the second frame 6-2 and win the super tiebreaker 10-8. But No. 19 Gabriela Knutson avoided the sweep for the Orange, beating Mateas 10-8 in a super tiebreaker after splitting the first two sets.
In Sunday's match against the Eagles (15-9, 5-9), the Blue Devils needed late heroics from Bilokin and Mateas to win their 10th straight doubles point. The two teams split the matches on Courts 1 and 2, leaving it all up to Duke's duo on Court 3, which trailed 3-5 and 15-40 on the brink of defeat. But the tandem saved three straight match points with Boston College serving, capped by a volley slam and a fist pump by Bilokin, and the Blue Devils won six more points in a row to take control, eventually winning the match 7-5.
"It was two completely different teams out there from the energy level at the beginning of that match to the energy level from 5-3 down," Ashworth said. "If they had done that earlier, maybe we’re not in that situation, but they played a great four games there in a row and played smart and played disciplined and really played to targets and didn’t give up any free points."
Duke didn't need to play under any such pressure in singles even with Mateas resting, taking early leads on every court and getting comfortable wins from Bilokin, Hamlin and Chen to clinch the match.
Now, the Blue Devils will turn their attention to the ACC tournament in Cary, N.C., with a potential rematch against top-ranked North Carolina looming in the finals next Sunday. The Tar Heels are the only team to beat Duke so far this season, winning 4-0 in the semifinals of the ITA Indoor National Championships in February and beating the Blue Devils again 4-1 in Chapel Hill in March.
"We wanted to come out and kind of set the tone for the week ahead this weekend. That was one of our goals, and I thought that we played two really complete matches," Ashworth said. "People stepped up in the fact that they’re playing some of the best tennis they’ve played all spring, so I think we’re in a really good place right now."
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