May 11, 2014
UVa Women 4, Kentucky 1 | NCAA Women's Bracket | Women's Photo Gallery | UVa Men 4, Army 0 | NCAA Men's Bracket | Men's Photo Gallery | Video Highlights | Twitter: @JeffWhiteUVa | Subscribe to White's Articles
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- In a span of three minutes Saturday night, the UVa women's tennis team took command of a fiercely contested NCAA tournament match at the Boar's Head Sports Club.
At 8:23 p.m., sophomore Stephanie Nauta won at No. 3 singles to pull Virginia even with Kentucky, 1-1, in their second-round match.
At 8:25, another sophomore, Julia Elbaba, won at No. 1 singles to put the Cavaliers ahead 2-1.
Then, at 8:26, freshman Rachel Pierson won a second-set tiebreaker at No. 2 singles, and the Wildcats suddenly found themselves trailing 3-1.
"You could feel that that match basically put us over the top," UVa coach Mark Guilbeau said. "You still need one more after that, and the girls had to fight hard, but Rachel came through real big today."
At No. 5 singles, sophomore Maci Epstein clinched the 4-1 victory for the Wahoos, romping 6-2 in the third set in a match that ended at 8:45 p.m. That capped a long day for the `Hoos -- the match started more than two hours later than scheduled after rain forced the teams indoors -- in which they bounced back after losing the doubles point.
"Credit to Kentucky for fighting like crazy, and also our girls for being so composed and so focused and really truly being tough," said Guilbeau, a former head coach at the SEC school. "Not just kind of a little bit superficial here or there. They were truly tough, and it was very real."
Pierson, who's from Princeton, N.J., exemplified the Cavaliers' grit. She breezed through the first set, winning 6-1, but then fell behind in the second, and her match with Edmée Morin-Kougoucheff could have easily gone to a third.
But Pierson rallied to pull even at 6-6 and then, after trailing early in the tiebreaker, came through with a decisive victory.
Nauta and Elbaba dominated their singles opponents, and the Cavaliers were confident of winning those matches. For Pierson to close out her opponent in two sets, though, was "a huge momentum boost" for her teammates whose matches were still in progress, she acknowledged.
"I was happy I could help contribute to that," Pierson said.
ACC champion Virginia, seeded No. 3 in the NCAA tournament, advances to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth straight season. UVa (23-5) will meet No. 14 seed Baylor (26-6) at noon Thursday in Athens, Ga.
Barring an epic upset, the UVa men's team will join the women in Athens. The defending NCAA champion Cavaliers (24-2), seeded No. 4 in the men's field, host Penn State (22-5) in a second-round match Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Snyder Tennis Center.
In their first-round match Saturday afternoon, at the Boar's Head Sports Club, the Virginia men eliminated Army 4-0. The match was the Cavaliers' first since April 27, when they blanked North Carolina 4-0 to capture the ACC title for the eighth consecutive season.
"Haven't been on the courts for a couple weeks, so it was good to get back out there and compete," UVa coach Brian Boland said. "I thought the guys did a great job. Came out and played very well in doubles, and it obviously carried into singles, and I was impressed with the focus and certainly the way the guys went about their business leading up to the tournament."
"Today was a good start," Boland said. "I think the confidence is there. The guys prepared incredibly well over the last couple weeks, and we're healthy and feeling good. We'll kind of take it from here and see where we're at. But obviously, I think, having two first-years on the court and to play as well as we did is a good sign."
The women's match followed the men's at the Boar's Head Sports Club, and the `Hoos did not get off to the start they wanted.
The Wildcats (17-12) "taught us how to play doubles," Guilbeau said.
Kentucky won big and quickly at No. 2 doubles, but UVa battled in the other two matches before finally succumbing at No. 3.
"I think coming back in the doubles towards the end, even though we didn't get it, really sent Kentucky a message that we were down but we weren't out," senior Caryssa Peretz said, "and as long as we kept fighting, we knew we could [win] every court [in singles]."
Guilbeau said: "I like the fact that our girls fought back in the doubles. I think it would have been a different dynamic [in singles] if we had not done that to begin with."
That his team could come back and win after dropping the doubles point pleased Guilbeau. Still, he said, that's "eventually going to run its course. We showed that we can do something that a lot of teams can't, which is beat really good teams in the singles. But let's face it, you want that point."
During the five-minute break between the end of doubles and the start of singles, he delivered "some strong messages" to his players, Guilbeau said, "and the kids handled that extremely well."
Peretz said: "He told us we really had to come out with quick feet, a lot of energy."
And that's exactly what happened. In singles, the Cavaliers won all six first sets.
"The kids were unbelievable," Guilbeau said. "Thank goodness for that, because you saw Kentucky fight back."
A win over Baylor would send UVa to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time in program history. Peretz likes the Cavaliers' chances in Athens.
"I think this group is sort of at a whole new level [in terms] of talent and energy and fight," she said. "I think as long as we keep the momentum rolling from ACCs, even from these first two rounds of NCAAs, we have a really good shot of making it far."
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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