Summer days drifted away, as did Duke's 2023 season.
After a quick 4-0 sweep of William & Mary Friday evening at home to advance to round two of the NCAA tournament, the sixth-seeded Blue Devils ended their season in a heartbreaking loss to UCLA Saturday evening.
“You let a team hang around and hang around, they’re gonna gain a little confidence, which is what they did,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “I think at the end they played with more confidence than we did. I think we played a little bit defensive, a little bit scared — not having been in a situation where we had let matches just slip away.”
Duke (23-5, 11-2 in the ACC) swept the Tribe Friday, winning their 27th-straight home match and improving their NCAA tournament home record to 35-2. In the quickest win of the season, taking only 1:28, the Blue Devils dominated the doubles point and only surrendered three games across all three courts. Senior Chloe Beck collected her 30th singles win of the season, and clinched the 4-0 win for Duke.
In contrast to their sweep Friday, the Blue Devils struggled to finish matches and hold onto leads Saturday, as four sets went to tiebreakers. Graduate student Briana Shvets dominated the first set of her singles match, winning 6-0 and winning nine straight games to lead the second set 3-0 before her opponent, Anne-Christine Lutkemeyer, tied it at 3-3. After regaining her lead at 5-3, the second set ended in a tiebreaker. Despite having a 5-2 early lead in the tiebreaker, Shvets surrendered the tiebreaker 7-5 and the third set 6-3, failing to complete on the 6-0 and 3-0 leads in the match.
“Usually, we’ve been good all year about closing out games and closing out sets and close out matches. When it came to those crunch times, they stepped up and we backed off a little. They just started to gain more confidence and became more vocal, ” Ashworth said about the long matches Saturday.
A doubles challenge by the Bruins (15-7) gave rise for Duke momentum as the point came down to Beck and Ellie Coleman’s match on court one, but Coleman and Beck clinched the doubles point for the Blue Devils in a 7-4 tiebreak win.
“I thought we could gain a little momentum there [doubles], but that’s exactly what happened,” Ashworth said on whether or not the match came down to the tiebreakers and deuce points.
With four tiebreakers in the match, Duke only won one of them in the Beck and Coleman’s doubles match. After gaining a 4-1 lead, graduate student Georgia Drummy lost the first set 6-4 to UCLA’s Kimmi Hance. The second set comprised seven straight deuce points and nine overall before Drummy fell 7-5, despite having 2-0 lead in the second set and close games.
The Blue Devils were without key player and graduate student Cameron Morra for the second-straight match Saturday, as she played neither Friday versus William & Mary nor against the Bruins. Morra, who injured her ankle during practice in April, normally plays No. 2 singles, shifting the lineup significantly.
“We have really good players, and so you know, it’s definitely not an excuse,” Ashworth said. “We trust who we have on the court and we gave ourselves opportunities.”
The tiebreaks and deuced all evened out as the match was tied 3-3 overall and came down to graduate student Iuliia Bryzgalova and another tiebreak. After a first-set tiebreak 7-3 loss, Brzgalova stretched a 2-0 lead before forcing another set tiebreak for the match. A tiebreak comeback later by UCLA’s Sasha Vagramov, who was down 3-0, was able to clinch the match with an 8-6 win against Bryzgalova.
The summer nights aren’t over for all the Blue Devils, though, as Beck, Drummy and Emma Jackson will be competing in the NCAA Singles Championship starting May 22 in Orlando, Fla.
However, Duke’s team hopes drifted away Saturday night as UCLA dominated in the important moments.
“We gave ourselves opportunities, we just didn’t play well when we got those opportunities,” said Ashworth.
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