Serving for the match and a trip to ITA Fall Nationals in San Diego, senior Chloe Beck came to the net and fired off a few volleys before dropping back to return a lob, sending the ball just over the outstretched racket of her opponent and securing a tournament victory (6-1, 6-4). She met at the net to embrace her competitor, Duke teammate Emma Jackson, with a hug.
The two Blue Devils faced off in the championship match of the A1 draw at the ITA Fall Regional Championship Oct. 17 in Winston-Salem, N.C., where the entire Duke team turned in a stellar performance.
Coming off an underwhelming performance one week prior at the ITA All-American Championships, the team bounced back by sending three singles players and two doubles pairs to the finals. Beck, Jackson and Cameron Morra all advanced to the championship match in their respective draws. Beck and Jackson faced off against one another in the A1 draw while Morra fell to top seeded Sarah Hamner of South Carolina in the A2 draw (4-6, 6-3, 2-6). In doubles action, the pairing of Karolina Berankova and Ellie Coleman reached the finals of the A1 draw before dropping their match against Carson Tanguilig and Fiona Crawley of North Carolina (3-6, 1-6), while Beck and Morra lost to Anna Brylin and Brooke Killingsworth of Wake Forest (3-6, 2-6) in the A2 draw finals. Coleman and Brianna Shvets fell in the quarterfinals of their respective singles draws.
“There was definite difference in play. We gave ourselves opportunities to win,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “The more matches the team plays, the better they’re going to be. We didn’t come into the season playing as many matches as I would have liked collectively. The more times they put themselves in those pressure situations that you can’t simulate in practice, then the better success we will have.”
The Blue Devils’ complete 180 from last week’s early exits is a testament to their experience and tenacity. The trio of Beck, Jackson and Morra all bounced back from first- or second-round exits to put together championship runs throughout the week. Likewise, the Beck-Morra duo rebounded from their first loss of the season to put together another strong collection of matches.
“It’s a lot about personality, a lot about character,” Ashworth said. “Talking about the next opportunity, the next time out, the next chance, you never know until you go out there and compete what that mentality is going to be. I think it shows a lot about what kind of team we are, and what kind of players we have. They want to keep getting better. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We approach it as, the next time we have the opportunity to play, we have to take advantage of it.”
Monday's championship match between Beck and Jackson was a culmination of fantastic performances all week by each player. They both earned the right to play for a spot in the ITA Fall Nationals, but they made sure that the stakes did not cause any bad blood or unnecessary tensions.
“I’ve seen teams go the other way and be nasty towards each other. Obviously, Emma and Chloe are great competitors, and they did a great job throughout the weekend earning that opportunity. It’s probably the first time they’ve had to play a teammate in a tournament like this. They handled themselves beautifully,” Ashworth said. “They were complementary of each other. It was great for our team to know that they can go out there and battle each other like that and then give each other a hug after the match.”
Beck and Jackson played just two courts down from Morra, which allowed them to have a common ally to cheer for during their match. Instead of yelling out words of encouragement to themselves during their match, they agreed to shout “Go Duke” when something went right in support of Morra.
While Beck said that it was difficult to play against her teammate, the two did not change their preparation or intensity for the match. Although Beck ultimately prevailed, she and Jackson left the match the same way they entered: as teammates and friends.
“I didn’t go into regionals with any expectations because I knew I didn’t hit my goals last week that I wanted to. I just wanted to work hard and see what happened,” Beck said. “Going into nationals, I have the same idea to do my best, work hard, prepare well and just go out there and play hard.”
Beck will compete at ITA Fall Nationals beginning Nov. 2, while the team heads to Raleigh for the N.C. State Invitational Nov. 4. Looking to finish their fall schedule on a high note, the Blue Devils will try to carry their momentum and continue making strides in their play.
“The fall is all about growing together as a team and getting to know each other rather than feeling like we need to be playing our best tennis, which is where we want to be going forward into the spring,” Beck said. “I think continuing our relationships with our four new players [is important]. We have three grad students that came here for their fifth year and one freshman, and they’re all super cool. We just need to keep working hard at practice and use our energy around the team to help us in tough matches in the spring.”
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