NEW HAVEN, Conn. – It was another close match at the ITA Team Indoor Championship for the No. 10 Duke women’s tennis team as it held a 3-2 lead but ultimately fell 4-3 to No. 15 Texas A&M. A back-and-forth affair all night had Duke lead 1-0, 2-0 and 3-2, but the Aggies got three-set wins on courts one and six to complete the comeback.
With the setback, Duke has lost consecutive matches for the first time since March 29 and April 2, 2015. The Blue Devils have suffered three or more consecutive losses just once since the start of the 2014 season, from February 6-21, 2015.
Kaitlyn McCarthy looked to put Duke in a good position with a straight-set win on court four that gave the Blue Devils a 3-2 lead. Texas A&M rallied with three-set triumphs from No. 71 Rachel Pierson, on court one, and Eva Paalma on court six to clinch. Paalma picked up a 6-1 win in the third set against Rebecca Smaller to complete the victory.
“We gave ourselves a chance at the end with Smaller,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “She has been great for us this spring so far. We wouldn’t even be here if she wouldn’t have been able to win the deciding match for us against Northwestern [at the ITA Kickoff Weekend]. We gave ourselves some chances and couldn’t capitalize. I told the team after the match that we have to play within ourselves when there’s pressure on us. We almost tried to be too good. We got out of our game and we have to play our game when there’s pressure on us. We have to rely on being good, not great.”
Duke took a 1-0 lead against the Aggies by wrapping up the doubles point for the fourth time this season. The Blue Devils lost just three games in the two completed matches. Duke got off to a quick start thanks to Samantha Harris and Smaller on court three as they topped Tina Bokhua and Macarena Olivares 6-1. Harris and Smaller, who led 5-0, improve to 2-3 in dual matches.
The court two Duke duo of Alyssa Smith and Chalena Scholl finished it off with a 6-2 victory against Domenica Gonzalez and Paalma. Smith and Scholl led 3-0 and 5-1 before finishing off the set. The pair ups its mark to 6-3 overall and 4-2 in dual action.
On court one, the match between No. 25 McCarthy and Meible Chi and No. 16 Rutuja Bhosale and Pierson was stopped with a 4-4 tie.
“Once again we came out and played really good doubles,” Ashworth said. “I was really impressed that our loss last night didn’t impact our doubles play today. From a character standpoint, it could have been easy to be down. But we came out, had tremendous energy and played really good doubles, again. In the last week, our doubles play has gotten so much better with all the effort and practice we’ve been putting in. I’m so proud of that. We now have to find a way to carry that momentum into singles.”
In singles, Chi raced to a 6-3, 6-1 win against Bokhua on court three to give Duke a 2-0 advantage. The two were tied at points one through three in the opening set before No. 21 Chi won six straight games to break open the match. With a 3-0 lead in the second set, Chi lost but rebounded with the next three games to finish it. Chi picks up her 20th victory of the year and is now 20-7 overall and 5-1 in dual matches.
Texas A&M got its first point from court two, where Bhosale topped No. 37 Scholl 6-2, 6-2. The first set was even at 2-2 before Bhosale went on a seven game run to win the opening set and go up 3-0 in the second. Scholl got it to a 4-2 deficit in the second set, but Bhosale took the final two games for the win. Scholl slips to 13-5 overall and suffers her first dual match loss to move to 3-1.
The Aggies evened the score at 2-2 overall as Gonzalez took down Smith 6-3, 7-6 (5) on court five. The opening set had Smith flip a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 lead, only to have Gonzalez win the final five games of the set. The second set was even at 2-2 before Smith inched out to 4-2 and 5-3 leads. Gonzalez replied with consecutive wins to knot the set at 5-5. The two exchanged games and sent the set to the tiebreaker, where they were even right until the end when Gonzalez secured the final two points. Smith falls to 7-11 overall and 2-3 in dual matches.
Duke regained the lead at 3-2 from No. 125 McCarthy, who held off Olivares 7-6 (7), 7-5 on court four. The first set was even at every point and headed to the tiebreaker, where McCarthy fell behind 4-2 after holding a 2-1 advantage. McCarthy rallied and knotted the breaker at 5-5, 6-6 and 7-7 before capturing the final two points. In the second set, McCarthy seemed to take insurmountable advantages of 4-1 and 5-2, but Olivares won three straight to even the set. McCarthy regrouped and won the final two games to take the match. McCarthy lifts her overall mark to 9-5 and 4-1 in duals.
One minute later, Texas A&M retied the score at 3-3 overall courtesy of No. 71 Pierson’s 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 victory against Harris on court one. After blowing through the first set, Pierson was tied 2-2 before Harris broke and held to take a 4-2 lead. Pierson got a game back, but Harris held and broke to capture the set. Harris would not go quietly in the third set as she trailed 4-0 only to close the gap to 4-3. Pierson pushed the lead out to 5-3, but Harris answered again to make it 5-4. Pierson held serve to close out for the victory. Harris drops to 4-5 overall and 2-4 against dual competition.
The Aggies got the final point from Paalma, who topped Smaller 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 on court six. The opening set was tied at points one through four before Paalma won the final two. The second set had Smaller take a 3-1 lead before Paalma closed the gap to 4-3. Smaller led 5-3 and Paalma got a game back, but Smaller held on for the win. The third set was even at 1-1 but Paalma won the final five for the match. Smaller dips to 4-6 overall and 3-2 in dual matches.
Duke completes the ITA Indoor event with No. 9 Vanderbilt at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
“When we play Vanderbilt tomorrow, that’s another top-10 team,” Ashworth added. “It will be our third match in three days. Tomorrow will be about character again. It’s tough to come out after two losses and play that third day again. It says a lot about your team if you can compete and fight really well. That’s what we’re looking to do tomorrow.”
No. 15 Texas A&M 4, No. 10 Duke 3
February 11, 2017 at New Haven, Conn. (Tennis and Fitness Center of Rocky Hill)
1. #25 Kaitlyn McCarthy/Meible Chi (DU) vs. #16 Rachel Pierson/Rutuja Bhosale (TAMU) 4-4, unfinished
2. Chalena Scholl/Alyssa Smith (DU) def. Domenica Gonzalez/Eva Paalma (TAMU) 6-2
3. Samantha Harris/Rebecca Smaller (DU) def. Tina Bokhua/Macarena Olivares (TAMU) 6-1
1. #71 Rachel Pierson (TAMU) def. Samantha Harris (DU) 6-1, 3-6, 6-4
2. Rutuja Bhosale (TAMU) def. #37 Chalena Scholl (DU) 6-2, 6-2
3. #21 Meible Chi (DU) def. Tina Bokhua (TAMU) 6-3, 6-1
4. Kaitlyn McCarthy (DU) def. Macarena Olivares (TAMU) 7-6 (9-7), 7-5
5. Domenica Gonzalez (TAMU) def. Alyssa Smith (DU) 6-3, 7-6 (7-5)
6. Eva Paalma (TAMU) def. Rebecca Smaller (DU) 6-4, 4-6, 6-1
Texas A&M 6-2; National ranking #15
Duke 4-2; National ranking #10
Order of finish: Doubles (2,3); Singles (3,2,5,4,1,6)