Onto the Elite 8 they go.
The Blue Devils came out on top 4-3 against No. 9-seed Central Florida Sunday night, with Chloe Beck's remarkable performance in Orlando, Fla., giving Duke the fourth point and pushing it into the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament.
Beck got off to a slow start as she struggled with cramping in the Florida heat, falling down early as Central Florida's Evgeniya Levashova used her home court advantage to get ahead. Beck refused to go down easily, though, and came up from behind to reach 4-5.
“She went down on the court cramping and needed help getting up and then said, ‘I’m not losing this,’ and it was a heck of an effort on her part,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said after the match.
Beck’s refuse-to-lose mindset got her far in the match against Levashova, with the match truly becoming mental as both players visibly began to wilt as time went on while they continued relentless back-and-forth rallying. Toward the end of the second set, as Beck led 4-2, the remainder of the matches on Courts 7-12 finished up.
Duke and Central Florida were tied 3-3. The ticket to the Elite Eight was dependent on Beck and Levashova alone.
“When I realized that I was the decider, I was more excited than anything because I haven’t had the opportunity to be the last one in a match that’s tied at three all," Beck said. "I was excited to have the opportunity to be in that position."
With all her teammates lined up cheering her on, Beck used a burst of energy to finish the second set 6-2 and despite being one of the youngest members of the team, the sophomore has time and time again delivered for the Blue Devils this year.
“She’s one of a few players on our team that has won the majority of her matches this year…. She’s someone you can fully trust in that moment,” Ashworth said. “She’s someone who doesn’t let the moment get too big, she plays the same no matter what the score.”
But Orlando, Fla., presented its own obstacles. In 70 degree weather with 52% humidity at 10 p.m. after three hours of tennis that day, Beck struggled with a difficult calf cramp and later experienced a painful hamstring cramp as the conditions of her match began to take a toll on her body.
“If I didn’t have all the people supporting me, I don’t know if I would have been able to get through it because, physically, I wasn’t feeling my best in the third set but all of the energy from everyone and the atmosphere definitely helped me bring enough to the court,” Beck said of her cramping.
Determined to continue winning in her first postseason of her college career, Beck won the mental battle of the third set. While the score bounced back and forth between her and Levashova, Beck came through for the Blue Devils with some of her classic cross-court drop shots to send Levashova sliding to get a racket on the ball. When Levashova double-faulted three times in the sixth game of the set, victory was in sight for Beck.
“[Levashova’s double faults] definitely helped me because when I started cramping, she looked physically fine, but when she started double-faulting a little bit, I thought to myself, ‘Maybe she’s nervous and I’ve got this’ even though I was physically feeling pretty bad, I changed my mindset and reminded myself, ‘You’re here to win,’” Beck said.
Beck bought fully into that mindset and came out of the third set with a 6-4 score to win her singles match, thus ending the Blue Devils’ Sweet 16 match with a win.
Of course, the Duke victory wasn’t only due to Beck since there were eight matches that happened before. Central Florida won the first match of the day with Ksenia Kuznetsova and Valeriya Zeleva beating Beck and doubles partner Karolina Berankova 6-3. The Blue Devils, however, went on to win the other two doubles matches, with Meible Chi and Margaryta Bilokin walking away with their own 6-3 victory before the Kelly Chen and Georgia Drummy duo secured the doubles point for the Devils with a 6-4 win.
“It was really good to get the doubles point, I think having that momentum going into singles was really good for us,” Beck said.
By the time doubles play had concluded, the sun had set and it was much later than the Blue Devils have been playing this season. The match commenced at 7 p.m., much later than the typical afternoon Duke match.
“The biggest thing is meals. We know we’re going to be out here from 5 to 11:30 [p.m.] and so we ate three times. We did some conditioning, some footwork before we came out here during the middle of the day, this isn’t a team that needs to hit two or three times a day, we knew we wanted to conserve our energy,” Ashworth said.
Many of the Blue Devils successfully conserved their energy, as Chi finished her singles match first in straight sets, handily taking down Kuznetsova, 6-2, 6-3 to add another point to Duke’s side of the scoreboard. Drummy followed not far behind, with the Vanderbilt transfer taking care of her opponent 6-4, 6-4 to continue to run up the score for the Blue Devils.
Senior Kelly Chen then lost 4-6, 2-6, despite a very close first set against Central Florida’s Zeleva while Berankova and Bilokin also lost their respective singles matches shortly after.
Thanks to Beck’s singles win, the Blue Devils will move onto the Elite Eight, facing North Carolina Wednesday at 7:30pm.
“I told the team, ‘We didn’t come here to lose tonight and we didn’t come here to lose on Wednesday,’ so now our biggest focus is on recovering before Wednesday,” Ashworth said.
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