Fresh off of a strong performance at the ITA All-American Championships earlier this month, junior and No. 36 Emma Jackson continued to shine this weekend at the ITA Fall Regional Championships in Chapel Hill.
The women’s team has delivered solid results thus far this season but has struggled to put together consistent performances without star players Chloe Beck and Cameron Morra, who both left after stellar campaigns last year. The series in Chapel Hill was an uphill battle for the Blue Devils, but there were certainly signs of improvement, particularly from Jackson, who showcased her ability to rise to the occasion once again.
On Friday, Jackson began her run in the singles A1 bracket with a clear victory against Jesse Hollins of Coastal Carolina 6-3, 6-1. The next day, the Illinois native fought back from 6-4 down in the first set to win both the second and third sets with a dominant 6-1 score against No. 86 Eleni Louka of Clemson. At the ITA All-American Championships just a few weeks prior, Jackson achieved another ranked win in similar fashion. In her second victory of the tournament, Jackson rallied back from a deficit to defeat No. 52 Isabella Pfennig of Miami 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. Jackson’s ability to not only improve as a player but also strengthen her resolve as a competitor in the face of challenging matches makes her an integral part of the team and led her far in Chapel Hill.
Jackson went on to claim another definitive win in the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-3 victory against Maddy Zampardo of N.C. State. In the semifinals Sunday, Jackson dropped the first set 6-3 against No. 30 Abbey Forbes of North Carolina and despite her valiant efforts, was unable to make another comeback and lost the second set 7-5. This defeat brought an end to her time at the tournament, but the resiliency displayed by Jackson this weekend bodes well for the remainder of the season.
“The last couple of matches [Jackson has] played have all been better and getting better. I think that Emma is going to play a big role in what we do this year,” said head coach Jamie Ashworth. “Towards the end of the last tournament, the All-American, she played a little bit better and then this was another positive step for her and for our whole team, concerning her.”
The rest of the team also performed well, but was unable to upset top-seeded opponents. Sophomore Katie Codd defeated No. 114 Lucia Quiterio of Charlotte 6-4, 6-2 and Sara Isabel Snyder of Furman 5-7, 6-0, 6-2 in her first two matches. Codd ultimately fell in the quarterfinals to No. 3-seed Abigail Rencheli of N.C. State in a 6-2, 6-4 decision. Junior Ellie Coleman advanced to the round of 16 following a win against Lucianna Piedra of Presbyterian 6-3, 6-0 before falling to No. 1-seed Reese Brantmeier of North Carolina 6-3, 6-2. In the A2 bracket, senior Karolina Berankova was unable to advance to the quarterfinals following a 6-1, 1-6, 3-6 defeat by No. 5-seed Anna Zyryanova of N.C. State in the round of 16.
Ashworth described the results of the tournament as “very up and down.”
“I thought that our play across the board could have been more consistent,” he said. “It's a little disappointing that we're at the end of October and it's not as consistent as it needs to be … I think that our play was better than it was two weeks ago, and so obviously, that's a good thing, but we just have to be a little more consistent with our decision making and our overall mental mindset on the court.”
The Blue Devils also struggled to reach the final in the doubles brackets, with the No. 3-seed team of freshman Shavit Kimchi and Berankova falling to Brooke Killingsworth and Marcella Cruz of Wake Forest 8-6 in the quarterfinals of the A1 bracket. In the A2 bracket, the pairing of Jackson and Coleman fell just short of the finals after being defeated by the No. 30 team of Abbey Forbes and Reilly Tran of North Carolina in the sems 7-5, 6-2.
“Our doubles is definitely a work in progress. I just feel like we need to improve on our communication,” Ashworth said. “We're giving away too many free points in doubles, especially as you look towards the spring which is our main objective … [We’ve got to] do a better job of taking advantage of the opportunities that we create.”
Looking ahead, the women’s team will be competing at the ITA Fall Nationals in San Diego from Nov. 1-5. In this quick turnaround period, the Blue Devils will likely be looking to use the momentum they gained this weekend to go deeper in the national tournament. Jackson in particular will also be practicing with hopes of becoming the next player to leave her mark on the team, just as Beck and Morra did a year ago.
“We just have to keep hitting a lot of balls and keep making sure that we're in a good frame of mind to get better,” Ashworth said. “When those opportunities come and when those opportunities arise, we need to keep taking advantage.”
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