Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Despite being points away from success, Duke goes home without a deep postseason run.
The comebacks were numerous for Duke this week but weren’t enough. Despite glimpses of hope and endurance shown by the Blue Devils, their season came to an end at the NCAA Singles Championships in a disappointing fashion and was mismatched with their strong regular season.
“It’s not how anyone wanted our season to end, both team and individually. We have a lot to build and a lot of growth that we can do in the summer and heading into next year,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said.
The Blue Devils concluded their season Wednesday as Chloe Beck fell in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Singles tournament, after Tuesday and Monday losses by Georgia Drummy and Emma Jackson, respectively. Duke finishes the year 23-5 overall and 16-1 at home.
With the entire tournament played back-to-back, the Florida heat and the schedule played a factor in the physicality of the competition. Starting Monday at 9 a.m., the entirety of the singles NCAA tournament will be completed before Sunday evening, regardless of the heat and humidity.
“It’s tremendously physical to do well at this tournament, but that’s the nature of the best, and you do the best you can to prepare for it,” Ashworth said regarding the struggle of the schedule. “The competition is going to be strong and the level is going to be high. It’s not easy, and that’s why whoever wins this is definitely deserving of winning it.”
Graduate student Georgia Drummy opened up the weekend with a fantastic comeback versus No. 2 overall seed Mary Stoiana of Texas A&M, after dropping the first set and winning the second set in a tiebreaker.
“She kicked it into another gear. It was a great match for her,” Ashworth said. “She served well and didn’t give away a lot of free points. Even when she got down, she didn’t get too frustrated after the first set.”
Emma Jackson didn’t have as much success on Monday as she ended her sophomore season with a loss to 12th-ranked Ayana Akli of South Carolina, 6-3, 6-3. Jackson, who ended with a 22-12 singles record for the season, was making her debut in the NCAA singles tournament.
“Emma just has to believe that she belongs at these tournaments. I think she let the moment get a little big for her and never really felt comfortable on the court,” Ashworth said Wednesday. “It’s just having faith and trust in herself and in her game.”
Winning 27 out of her last 28 matches, Beck advanced to the Sweet 16 Tuesday morning as she defeated No. 22 Jaedan Brown of Michigan. Drummy, on the other hand, fell in a 7-5, 7-5 loss to No. 36 Kari Miller of Michigan, completing her collegiate singles career with an overall record of 85-32.
Beck fell behind 2-0 to open every set on Wednesday, but only in the first one was she able to level the score at 2-2. After being down two games to none to open the match, Beck won four straight games, 4-2, before winning the first set 6-3.
The comebacks didn’t end there for Beck, as after being down 4-2 in the second, she rebounded and broke Oklahoma’s Layne Sleeth’s serve to tie the second set at 6-6. Fighting back once again, Beck broke serve for a 6-5 lead in the third set after being down 5-2 and winning four games in a row. Unfortunately, Sleeth broke serve back to send the match to a deciding tiebreak, which Sleeth dominated 7-2.
“They play a little bit similar,” Ashworth said about Beck’s loss Wednesday. “When she got down in the third set, she played a certain way to get back into it. And then when she was up at the end of the third set, she reverted back to her style of play earlier. She has to trust that there are different ways to play and she doesn’t always have to play one way.”
Beck, who ended the season 33-5, isn’t done at Duke as she claimed her remaining eligibility for next season.
“It’s disappointing to lose that, but what an incredible year she’s had for us and we’re looking forward to another good one,” said Ashworth.
While the Blue Devils had heartbreaking and frustrating ends to their postseason, both in team and individual competition, their regular season was not without its triumphs. Duke boosted a school-record number of regular-season home wins in Durham this season, as they went undefeated at home 15-0.
With an overall season record of 23-5, Duke faltered in the postseason, falling to Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC competition and UCLA in the second round of team NCAA competition. Despite wins against both Stanford and N.C. State, two of four final four teams this year, in the regular season the Blue Devils didn’t compete deep into the postseason.
“In my mind, we played our best tennis at the end of March and the beginning of April, and that’s something we have to evaluate,” Ashworth said on the season as a whole. “I didn’t want our win over N.C. State to be the highlight of our season. I think it was.”
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