While the women’s tennis team’s season ended with its loss to North Carolina in the Elite Eight last week, six Blue Devils were able to compete in the NCAA Individual Championship.
Kelly Chen and Georgia Drummy both made it to the Sweet 16 of the individual tournament while sophomore Chloe Beck and the doubles duo of Meible Chi and Margaryta Bilokin lost in the first round of their respective tournaments. Beck also played alongside doubles partner Karolina Berankova in the doubles tournament, with the tandem falling in in the second round.
The fall is full of individual tournaments for the team, where the team members can focus on themselves and develop their own skills, rather than playing for the team as they do in the spring season. Once the spring season starts, though, the team mindset takes over, giving the Blue Devils a four to five month break from individual play.
“The first day or two of the individual tournament is the hardest,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “You’re so used to your teammates being there, you’re so used to having that built-in support system. You almost have to become selfish in that you’re out there for yourself. It’s a completely different mindset, it’s a completely different animal.”
During the first day of the tournament, Beck, making her first-ever appearance in the individual tournament, proved Ashworth’s thoughts to be true when she fell during the Round of 64. However, Chen and Drummy were victorious in the first round, despite both dropping their first sets.
“My mom used to say that the match isn’t over until I shake hands with my opponent. I try to have a mentality of not giving up even if I’m down a set 5-0. It’s not over until I hit the ball out or she hits a winner,” Chen said.
Drummy came back strong after dropping her first set and won 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to move on to the Round of 32 while Chen had a much closer second set, winning in a 7-1 tiebreaker. The latter then won a closer third set 7-5, securing her third trip to the individual round of 32.
Chen and Drumy continued to win Monday, moving themselves into the Sweet 16 and securing All-American status. In each of their second matches of the tournament, they won in straight sets.
“This season wasn’t the season I hoped I’d get, just in terms of how I wanted to play, but either way I was really happy to get the All-American status and make it to the Round of 16,” Chen said.
That same day, Chi and Bilokin fell to Wake Forest’s Carolyn Campana and Eliza Omirou, the first ACC matchup of the individual doubles tournament for the Blue Devils. Beck and Berankova, also making her debut in the individual tournament, won a close match against South Carolina’s duo of Mia Horvit and Megan Davies 6-4, 4-6, 1-0 (10-8).
“It’s refreshing, while we did end up playing a doubles team from Wake [Forest] and a doubles team from N.C. State, it’s refreshing to look across the net and have that challenge of trying to figure out the game style, as players and as coaches," Ashworth said. "There were a lot of players we hadn’t seen. At that point we really just focus on ourselves, and know and have confidence that when we go out there, if we play our game and stay true to who we are as tennis players, the results will take care of themselves."
On Tuesday, the unknowns got the best of the Duke players that had made it that far. Despite winning the first set, Chen was bested by Vanderbilt’s Christina Rosca 6-4, 4-6, 2-6 and Drummy dropped two quick sets against Oregon’s Janice Tjen to lose 2-6, 4-6.
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Beck and Berankova, on the other hand, faced N.C. State’s Alana Smith and Anna Rogers, who they didn’t play during the regular season, but were familiar with from ACC play. The first set was a close nailbiter that they took all the way to a 6-6 tiebreaker before winning 7-5. Smith and Rogers took the second set 4-6 and took the third after going on a 3-0 run to win 7-10 after the 7-7 tie.
“I’m proud of this group. The final rankings came out and we finished eighth, which was an improvement from where we started the year. [The team] came together. All we can ask out of any group is to be playing their best tennis at the end of the year and we really did that," Ashworth said. "We really showed our competitive nature at the end of the year."
While the season may be over, there’s a whole new season to build on starting in less than a year.
“We have a great group coming back and three new [players] coming in,” Ashworth said. “We’re excited about the future…they were happy with where we are but there is definitely no sense of being satisfied. For the first time in a long time, almost every single one of them talked about what their tennis plans were for the summer. As a group, they are hungry to achieve more.”