In the new super regional format for this year’s NCAA tournament, Duke will host an ACC opponent it has only lost to one time in 61 matches.
When the fifth-seeded Blue Devils step into Amber Tennis Stadium Friday evening for their Sweet 16 matchup, they will be just four dual match points against No. 12 seed N.C. State away from advancing to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row. Last year’s Duke team advanced to the semifinals before falling to Stanford.
“Being at home definitely helps us. We’ve shown over the past few years that we’ve had a great track record at home,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We’re excited for that opportunity and excited to get in one last home match for our team and our great fans that we’ve had here.”
The three-time ACC Coach of the Year’s Blue Devils defeated the Wolfpack, led by 2019 ACC Coach of the Year Simon Earnshaw, April 10 by a margin of 5-2.
“They’re a much different team and we’re a much different team. Neither of us had really been outside very much at that point,” Ashworth said. “We have the recall of winning that match…. We may have some different matchups, but I would expect it to be a very competitive match.”
Duke freshman Maria Mateas owns a 16-10 singles record in mostly the top singles spot, and advanced to the finals of the ITA All-American Championship in October. Against N.C. State, Mateas defeated then-No. 8 Anna Rodgers 6-1, 6-2. Friday’s likely top-line rematch will feature Rodgers and Mateas, who are currently ranked 10th and 11th, respectively.
“It doesn’t really matter who’s on the other side of the net,” Ashworth said of Mateas. “There’s little things that when she’s doing well, she can beat anyone in the country—when she’s moving forward, when she’s being aggressive with her returns, when she’s taking advantage of balls that come to the middle of the court."
Although the Blue Devils' No. 33 Meible Chi sat out the singles portion of their first matchup against the Wolfpack, the Weston, Fla., native will likely be slotted in the second or third singles slot in the Sweet 16. On the season, Chi won 24 singles matches and lost only six. Ashworth placed Chi in the second singles spot in Saturday’s 4-0 victory against Arizona State.
Kelly Chen, a sophomore, will matchup in the other singles spot not taken by Chi. In her second season donning the blue and white, No. 21 Chen leads the team with 29 singles wins to only eight defeats. The Cerritos, Calif., native lost to North Carolina State’s No. 73 Anna Smith 6-2, 4-6, 5-7 at second singles.
“Kelly has been a rock for us for two years and in big matches, has come up huge,” Ashworth said. “The bigger the situation, the better Kelly plays. It doesn’t get better than having this Round of 16 match at home. I would expect her to come out and play a great match.”
The Blue Devils’ lineup flexibility can also be seen in the fourth and fifth singles spots. Senior Kaitlyn McCarthy saw her name at the third, fourth and fifth positions while classmate Ellyse Hamlin played anywhere from third singles through sixth singles this spring.
In their final home dual matches of their respective careers, Duke’s lone two seniors will look to advance the team to the next round Friday night before graduating Sunday morning.
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“First, they need to be proud of everything they’ve accomplish on the court and off. Graduating from Duke is something they and their families will cherish for the rest of their life,” Ashworth said. “Hopefully, they leave all their emotions on the court and can try to gather their thoughts afterwards…. They’re both of the mindset that we still have a lot of tennis in front of us and we have a job to do.”
McCarthy’s final season included 20 wins, a feat she accomplished all four years, and 10 losses. The Cary, N.C., native defeated Wolfpack’s Liz Norman in straight sets 6-4, 6-4 at fourth singles. The senior also defeated Bianca Moldovan, who played the majority of her matches at the sixth position, 7-6, 6-2 in October.
Coming off a 32-win season a year ago, Hamlin notched 22 singles wins for the second-most in a season of her career. In those 22 victories–19 of which were won in straight sets—the Fairfield, Conn., native lost only two matches all year long, the latter of which was at third singles. The senior defeated N.C. State’s then-No. 110 Adriana Reami in April.
“Ellyse is someone that her teammates have full confidence, full belief in she’s going to go out and give everything she can,” Ashworth said. “No matter what we’ve asked from her or where we’ve put her, she’s delivered.”
Mateas’ fellow freshman Margaryta Bilokin made her debut for the Blue Devils January in the Bahamas. The New Canaan, Conn., native was 21-6 and played in the fourth, fifth and sixth singles spots. In April, she cruised past Moldovan 6-0, 6-1 in the fifth position. She will likely play sixth singles Friday.
On the doubles side, the No. 47 duo of Chen and Hamlin is expected to sit atop of lineup while the No. 24 tandem of Chi and McCarthy will likely play second doubles. Mateas and Bilokin will likely close out the lineup.
“We talked about how if we could get off to a great start and use some of that momentum from each court, it doesn’t give another team a lot confidence to build on,” Ashworth said. “The longer in doubles that you let someone hang around, the more they start to believe.”
North Carolina State’s No. 7 pairing of Rodgers and Smith competed all but two times in the first doubles position. The duo is 32-5 on the year.
The winner of this Sweet 16 matchup will face the winner of No. 4 South Carolina and No. 13 Southern California, which will face off May 11 in Columbia, S.C. The final eight teams will continue with travel to the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., to compete for the NCAA team championship. The individual singles and doubles tournaments will take place at the same location.