With home-court advantage and the Duke faithful to cheer them on, the Blue Devils played their usual game.
No. 3-seed Duke hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament at Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center Friday and Saturday, where it delivered losses to Quinnipiac and Old Dominion, respectively. Starting by handling the Bobcats with a 4-0 victory—in which Duke won every set—the Blue Devils had no problem continuing their success Saturday against the Monarchs, who had shut out Furman 5-0 one day earlier to compete against the Blue Devils.
And with a 4-1 triumph to punch their ticket to the tournament's super regionals, the Blue Devils showed that they have everything they need to keep their season on fire.
“We have full trust and belief in each other, and full trust and belief in ourselves,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “No matter what the situation is, we feel that we can compete our way out of situations that we put ourselves into.”
Heading into the NCAA tournament as the ACC champion and the No. 4 team in the nation, Duke had the upper hand. Even as Old Dominion began catching its breath with star player Yuliia Starodubtseva’s victory in singles against junior Chloe Beck, the Blue Devils retained the upper hand with a fierce performance by freshman Emma Jackson, who gave Duke its fourth and final point of the day.
With the last time she had played in a match being her title-clinching victory at the ACC tournament, Jackson came into Saturday ready to play. After tallying a victory in her first set and with Duke leading 3-1, the La Grange Park, Ill., native played precisely how she needed to in order to get ahead.
At first, it looked as if Old Dominion could potentially catch up to the Blue Devils, as Tatsiana Sasnouskaya won the second set on court two against Duke's Georgia Drummy, who had won the first. However, Jackson was quick with the ball, and despite opponent Marina Alcaide tying her 2-2 in the second set, the freshman star pulled away to win 6-2, 6-3 to etch Duke’s name onto the bracket for another round.
“Emma plays free and swings freely. She can really dictate, especially with her groundstrokes. And so she just needed to kind of open up and swing like she’s capable of swinging and have that belief,” Ashworth said about how Jackson pulled away in the second set. “I think that was our whole team mentality. I don’t think she has any different mentality than anybody else. And I think that when they trust themselves and believe in themselves, they’re a really good team.”
Though Jackson was the player to close out the match, the contest was a textbook team victory, with action from every Blue Devil who saw the court helping them to reach four points.
Duke started the afternoon off with a strong doubles performance on court two from Beck and freshman Ellie Coleman. They took down the duo of Alesya Yakubovich and Shahar Biran in a quick 6-1 set. But court one was a different story, as Starodubtseva and Sasnouskaya struck back against the Blue Devils by taking down the duo of Drummy and Karolina Berankova 6-3.
With no lead yet for either team, the doubles point came down to court three. Old Dominion’s Alexandra Viktorovich and Sofia Johnson held tight to Duke throughout, but the Blue Devils' Margaryta Bilokin and Eliza Omirou took the set 7-5.
With the doubles point in tow, Duke started with the same level of energy in singles. Bilokin did not appear tired from her intense doubles match as she took court five and defeated Yakubovich 6-0, 6-0. Senior Kelly Chen quickly followed, taking down Johnson 6-1, 6-1.
“When [Bilokin] swings and doesn't play with any kind of hesitation, she can have matches like she did today—and she kept it going there for the whole two sets,” Ashworth said. “Kelly's been playing really well the last couple of weeks. And I think that she's relaxed. She's always been such a big player for us the last couple of years, and this time of year, she has that experience, and it’s great to see, and it's great for them both to be vocal on the court. It was a good lift for us after the close double match.”
The Blue Devils will next host either Georgia or Wake Forest, depending on which team wins in its second-round matchup, for a quarterfinal berth Friday.
“We're looking forward to [playing at home] on Friday, whoever it may be—both are really good teams,” Ashworth said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to have played Wake Forest twice this year and haven't played Georgia in a couple of years. But they both fight and they both compete, and no matter who it is, it will be a good match, and we'll be ready to have a good one.”
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Ana Young is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.