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Courtesy: Duke Athletics
Rebecca Smaller
Smaller Rally Lifts Duke Past Northwestern, 4-3
Courtesy: Duke Sports Information
Release: 02/05/2017
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DURHAM, N.C. – For the second straight Sunday, the Duke women’s tennis team came away with a 4-3 victory against Northwestern at the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. This win pushed No. 10 Duke’s overall record to 4-0 heading into the ITA National Women's Team Indoor Championship and provided head coach Jamie Ashworth with his 450th career victory. 

“There have been so many great players,” Ashworth said of win No. 450. “We’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of great players in the long time I’ve been here. It’s a tribute to them. We’ve had good players and good mental players who can win matches like the one we did today, when we’re down and come back. We have that resiliency and belief. That’s something we talk about in our program – you represent yourself as well as teams of the past. For a number like 450, that’s where that comes into play.”

This Sunday, it was Rebecca Smaller providing the clinching point in the final match of the day with a 7-5, 7-6 (5) triumph against Brooke Rischbieth on court six. Smaller trailed 3-1 in both sets and trailed 5-3 in the second set as well as falling behind 4-0 in the tiebreaker before mounting her rally and pushing the Blue Devils to the victory.

“It was great,” Ashworth said. “She was down in the first set as well as the second. She played really smart at the end of both sets, hitting to a lot of targets. She was really cutting down on her errors there. For someone who really hasn’t been in that situation at all in her three previous years here with the match coming down to her, she handled it really well. This is something she can gain a lot of confidence from.”

“I was off to a rough start in the second set,” Smaller said. “I was looking around and lost a bit of focus. I kind of got back to the two main things I needed to work on and what I did well in the first set. I focused on those and that helped me get through it. Of course it gets very nerve wracking when everyone is looking at your court to try and get the win. But when I have the girls right there on my side, I try and make a lot of eye contact with each one. That definitely calms me down. Having the team right there with me gets me through.”

In Sunday’s match, Duke dropped the doubles point for just the second time this season, both to Northwestern. The Blue Devils actually claimed the first decision as Kaitlyn McCarthy and Meible Chi blew past the No. 6 team of Alex Chatt and Maddie Lipp, 6-0. McCarthy and Chi are 3-0 this year, all in dual matches.

“Everybody was prepared and ready to go out,” Chi said. “We knew last time was a really hard match. I wanted to make sure I could do my part to not make it as tight this time. We all worked on things we needed to improve. We took that today and used it really well. In doubles, we played really well. That brought us the momentum to singles. I’m just really proud of how prepared we were.”

Northwestern (4-3) completed its comeback with wins on courts two and three, starting with a 6-4 triumph from Rheeya Doshi and Lee Or against Alyssa Smith and Chalena Scholl at No. 2. Doshi and Or bounced back from a break in the first game to win three straight and go up 3-1. Duke battled back to force ties at 3-3 and 4-4, but the Wildcats held and broke to end the match. Smith and Scholl dip to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in dual action.

All eyes turned to court three, where Samantha Harris and Smaller ultimately fell 7-5 to Erin Larner and Rischbieth. The Blue Devil pair trailed early 4-1 as Northwestern capitalized on a hold, break and hold series after a 1-1 tie. With Harris and Smaller down 5-2 and serving to stay in the match, they held, broke and held to even the set at 5-5. It was a hold and then break on the deciding point that gave the Wildcats the victory and doubles point. Harris and Smaller slip to 1-2 overall, all in dual competition.

“Those were tough doubles to lose,” Ashworth said. “We lost almost the same way last week. But I was proud of how we came out in singles.”

Moving to singles, Duke evened the action at 1-1 with No. 76 McCarthy’s 6-2, 6-3 win versus Or on court four. With the first set even at 2-2, McCarthy won seven straight games to take control of the match with a 3-0 lead in the second set. Or cut the deficit to 4-2 and 5-3, but McCarthy broke to get the victory. She ups her overall mark to 8-4 and is undefeated in dual matches at 3-0.

Northwestern regained the lead on court one, where Larner topped Harris 6-2, 6-3. In the first set, Larner converted a 1-1 tie into 3-1 lead. Harris got within a game at 3-2, but Larner won the final three games. In the second set, Harris found herself behind 3-1 again, only to rally and knot the score at 3-3. Again, Larner had the answer with the last three games. Harris dips to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in dual action.

The seesaw battle continued as the Blue Devils retied the score at 2-2 with No. 14 Chi downing No. 104 Lipp 6-4, 6-4 on court two. Chi dropped the first two games of the match before reeling off five straight to take a 5-2 lead. Lipp fought back with a hold and break, but Chi broke back to end the set. The second set had Chi jump out to a 4-1 lead before Lipp replied with three straight to knot the set at 4-4. From there, Chi held and broke to end the match. Chi remains unbeaten in dual match play at 4-0 and lifts her overall record to 19-6.

“She has such mental toughness,” Ashworth said. “She really hasn’t played as well as she did in the end of the fall, but she’s competing really well. She was up 4-1 in the second set and came back to 4-3. We talked then about just playing her game, taking chances and putting the pressure on [Lipp]. It’s all in Meible’s mindset. She never once has wavered in her belief. For a tennis player, that’s a huge thing.”

Duke took its first lead of the match at 3-2 with No. 34 Scholl holding off Doshi 6-4, 7-6 (0) at No. 3. After the first set was even at 2-2, 3-3 and 4-4, Scholl captured the final two games. Scholl and Doshi exchanged breaks throughout the second set and were tied at each point until Scholl rolled through the tiebreaker with seven consecutive points. Scholl ups her mark to 13-4 and 3-0 in dual matches.

“We have good depth through our singles,” Ashworth said. “No matter who is in the middle of our lineup, we’re going to win a lot of matches there this year. Our singles can match up well with almost anybody.”

Northwestern again evened the match at 3-3 from court five, where Chatt defeated Smith 6-0, 5-7, 6-1. Smith rallied from 4-2 and 5-3 deficits in the second set to force the third, but could not complete the comeback. Smith drops to 7-10 overall and 2-2 against dual match competition.

Smaller finished off Rischbieth on court six to complete the Duke comeback. Smaller trailed 3-1 in the opening set before evening the action at 3-3. The set was tied 4-4 and 5-5 before a break and hold gave Smaller the set. In the second set, Smaller again trailed 3-1 and was behind 4-2 and 5-2 before capturing three straight to force the tie. With Rischbieth ahead 6-5, Smaller held on her serve and forced the tiebreaker. Once in the tiebreaker, Rischbieth ripped off four consecutive points before Smaller answered with six straight to go up 6-4. Rischbieth got one back, but Smaller tallied the final point for the victory.

Duke heads to New Haven, Conn., for the ITA National Women's Team Indoor Championship. The Blue Devils’ first match at the event will be Friday.

No. 10 Duke 4, No. 23 Northwestern 3
February 5, 2017 at Durham, N.C. (Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center) 

Doubles competition
1. Kaitlyn McCarthy/Meible Chi (DU) def. #6 Alex Chatt/Maddie Lipp (NU) 6-0
2. Rheeya Doshi/Lee Or (NU) def. Alyssa Smith/Chalena Scholl (DU) 6-4
3. Erin Larner/Brooke Rischbieth (NU) def. Samantha Harris/Rebecca Smaller (DU) 7-5

Singles competition
1. Erin Larner (NU) def. Samantha Harris (DU) 6-2, 6-3
2. #14 Meible Chi (DU) def. #104 Maddie Lipp (NU) 6-4, 6-4
3. #34 Chalena Scholl (DU) def. Rheeya Doshi (NU) 6-4, 7-6 (7-0)
4. #76 Kaitlyn McCarthy (DU) def. Lee Or (NU) 6-2, 6-3
5. Alex Chatt (NU) def. Alyssa Smith (DU) 6-0, 5-7, 6-1
6. Rebecca Smaller (DU) def. Brooke Rischbieth (NU) 7-5, 7-6 (7-5) 

Match Notes:
Northwestern 4-3; National ranking #23
Duke 4-0; National ranking #10
Order of finish: Doubles (1,2,3); Singles (4,1,2,3,5,6)
Official: Lisa Watkins T-3:02 A-138