All those inside Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center held their breath as junior Ellie Coleman battled back from 5-0 down in her second set against No. 14 Auburn’s DJ Bennett to give the Blue Devils a chance to advance to the National Team Indoors. The rest of the players from both teams anxiously looked on from the sidelines as Bennett took the 11th game of the set to gain a 6-5 lead on Coleman. In the deciding game, Coleman was unable to pull off an upset, but displayed incredible tenacity over the course of the match. The Michigan native was not the only player on the team this weekend to put up a fight against a talented Tiger.
The 15th-ranked Blue Devils ultimately fell to Auburn 4-2 in the ITA Kickoff Weekend’s Championship match, but head coach Jamie Ashworth was still able to find a silver lining in the weekend’s matches.
“I thought that we competed well,” Ashworth said. “Auburn did a much better job than us on the bigger points. They played a little bit more aggressively than we did. I thought that we were in a little bit of a defensive mindset of sitting back and hoping that they would miss on big points rather than being aggressive.”
Ashworth’s squad started out the weekend well, advancing quickly with a 4-0 victory Friday against Princeton in the ITA Regional Championship. Freshman Shavit Kimchi and senior Karolina Berankova won their doubles match 6-3, before Kimchi, playing on court one, won her singles match in straight sets. Coleman also won her singles match in straight sets, but the prime match to watch Friday was between graduate transfer Brianna Shvets and Princeton’s Eva Elbaz. The match had a little more meaning for Shvets, who was facing her former team. She came out triumphant.
“We are proud of how she handled herself, she’s still got friends on that team and she came out today and did what she needed to do both emotionally and physically,” Ashworth said. “We need her to be like that, not just the tennis side of her but the vocal side of her.”
The team’s efforts in doubles were much less effective Saturday with junior Emma Jackson and Coleman starting off the matchup against Auburn on the wrong foot with a 6-1 loss to Ava Esposito Cogan and Selin Ovunc. Both Blue Devils struggled with unforced errors the entire match, which allowed the Tigers to take full advantage of their strong serves and net play. The errors got to Shvets and Berankova too, who broke early in their own set but were unprepared for Auburn’s DJ Bennett and Adeline Flach’s aggressive hitting in the last five games of the set en route to a 6-3 win.
These losses put pressure on the Blue Devils (5-1) — Kimchi especially — going into Saturday’s singles matches. The freshman faced Auburn fifth-year Carolyn Ansari, who finished the fall season with a career-high singles ranking of No. 8. Despite the Tiger’s quick side-to-side hitting that often left Kimchi signing in frustration, the Blue Devil never accepted defeat. After starting the first set down 2-0, the freshman broke out her deadly serve to deliver an ace that would put her on the board. There were many shifts in momentum throughout the two set match, but the score ended up falling in favor of the Tiger 6-4, 6-3.
“The tough thing about playing number one is you don't get a day off,” Ashworth said. “It doesn't matter if they're ranked No. 1 in the country or 60 in the country, everyone has a good number one player and so you've got to be ready to play every single day. For the most part, she's done that and the girl she played today is a really good player.”
While most of the squad struggled, Shvets continued her strong performance from Friday into Saturday, dominating the first set in her singles match before winning a tiebreak in the second set to take the match. Down 3-0 in the tiebreak, Shvets battled back to take the game, set and match, showing off her “feisty,” nature, as Ashworth put it. Sophomore Katie Codd also won her match after dominating the first set and then seeing her opponent medically retire before the second set.
Ashworth is now looking ahead to next weekend.
“We have two really tough matches next weekend with UCLA and Ohio State … so we just have to be more aggressive in those situations.”
The Blue Devils will face off against the 13th-ranked Buckeyes Friday in Columbus, Ohio, before battling the 12th-ranked Bruins Saturday afternoon.
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