Sports

Georgia finds a way to stop Cardinal women at NCAA tennis

 

The 14th-ranked Stanford women's tennis team saw its postseason run end in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament on Sunday, with No. 7 Georgia handing the Cardinal a 4-1 setback in Waco, Texas.

Stanford entered the match having won 10 of its last 11 NCAA duals when seeded lower than its opponent. The magic wasn't there against the Bulldogs, although the effort was.

Reaching the NCAA quarterfinals for the sixth consecutive season, Stanford (18-6) beat No. 3 California on Friday. The Cardinal, which placed fourth in the Pac-12 and was ranked between No. 7-14 in the country throughout the season, was seeking its third straight semifinal appearance.

Stanford has been so dominant that this season feels like a disappointment. The Cardinal, proud owners of 18 national championships (17 NCAA, 1 AIAW), suffered its most losses in a season since recording a 20-6 record in 1983.

Reaching the national quarterfinal, given that Stanford had the minimum six players when the school year began, is no disappointment.

Senior Ellen Tsay is the only Cardinal player who has completed her eligibility, and with a strong recruiting class coming in, Stanford will once again make a serious push for a national title.

Despite its status as the most storied program in college tennis, it might be surprising to note that Stanford has become familiar with starting the postseason in an underdog role.

The Cardinal entered the NCAA tournament seeded higher than fifth only once (No. 1 in 2011) over the last seven years. But Stanford won the 2010 NCAA championship as the No. 8 seed and two years ago became the lowest-seeded team, at No. 12, to win an NCAA title.

Georgia (24-6, 13-3 SEC) established itself early and controlled momentum throughout, reversing a trend that had occurred during its most recent meetings with Stanford. The two programs had also met in the NCAA quarterfinal round in 2011 and 2013, with the Cardinal handily winning both matches.

The Bulldogs established the tone early by claiming the doubles point for a 1-0 lead with 8-2 victories at the Nos. 1 and 3 spots. It was only the sixth time this season the Cardinal had dropped the doubles point.

Georgia extended its lead to 2-0 following a 6-2, 6-2 victory from Silvia Garcia over Caroline Doyle at the No. 3 spot. Doyle had won eight in a row and suffered her first loss since March 21.

The deficit was trimmed to 2-1 thanks to Taylor Davidson's 6-2, 6-4 win over Ellen Perez at the No. 2 position. Davidson notched her 29th victory of the season and remained undefeated in five NCAA team matches over her career.

Georgia's advantage increased to 3-1 after Hannah King outlasted Tsay, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, on court five.

Trailing 3-1, Stanford needed to win all three remaining courts. Lindsey Kostas, making her NCAA debut and looking for her first victory in over a month, gave the Cardinal a boost by winning her first set 6-4 and was battling in the second.

No. 2-ranked Carol Zhao was locked in a three-set battle with No. 5-ranked Lauren Herring at the top spot of the lineup, with Zhao eventually moving ahead 3-2 in the deciding frame.

Before the Cardinal could focus on those matches, the priority was court four. Kennedy Shaffer had won the first set 6-3 before Krista Hardebeck quickly countered 6-0 in the second set.

Trailing 5-1 in the third set, Hardebeck won three straight games but was unable to get the match to 5-5. After failing to convert on two match points, Shaffer finally provided the clincher.

Stanford player will now compete in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships, which begin later this week. Davidson, Doyle and Zhao are competing in singles while the teams of Davidson-Zhao and Doyle-Tsay are represented in doubles

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Stanford Athletics

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