WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – With a dominant effort to open play at the NCAA Team Tournament at Wake Forest Indoor Tennis Center, the No. 3 Duke women’s tennis team made a statement as the Blue Devils advanced to the quarterfinals with a 4-0 win over No. 13 Northwestern.
Duke improves to 26-3 on the season. The Blue Devils reach the quarterfinal round for the first time since 2014 and for the 19th time in program history. Northwestern closes out its season with a 23-6 ledger.
With Northwestern coming into the match having not dropped the doubles point in 16 straight matches, dating back to March 9, Duke might have been expected to fall behind early. But the Blue Devils, especially the top pairing of Kaitlyn McCarthy and Ellyse Hamlin, were up to the task. First to win their match for Duke was Meible Chi and Hannah Zhao. The pair topped Rheeya Doshi and Julie Byrne 6-4. Soon after, McCarthy and Hamlin beat Northwestern’s fourth-ranked pair of Erin Larner and Maddie Lipp to clinch the doubles point. McCarthy and Hamlin are now 6-0 in the postseason, beating five ranked teams in that span.
“I was happy, especially with the level of our doubles,” said head coach Jamie Ashworth. “We haven’t been playing great doubles the past couple of weeks and I thought our doubles was so high energy that it kind of carried us through there. I was really proud of the girls and the effort they put in.”
The Blue Devils carried the momentum into the singles play, capturing all six first sets.
“You look up at the scoreboard, but you catch yourself because you start thinking about other things,” Ashworth said. “After the doubles, the one thing I said was, we haven’t accomplished anything. We have to go out and play singles like we lost the doubles. Our goal is to win the six singles matches and we have to fight that way. They responded really well in that. Especially indoors against a Northwestern team that has played a lot indoors. I was really happy with how we handled the situation.”
First to finish her match was Hamlin. The junior from Fairfield, Conn., took an early 3-1 lead against Alex Chatt in the first set and never looked back. Hamlin finished her first set 6-3 and then did not drop a game in the second to win 6-3, 6-0.
Chi barely broke a sweat in her first set against No. 117 Lee Or, dropping only one game in the opening stanza. The second was more of a back and forth affair, but Chi prevailed to clinch her match 6-1, 6-4.
“I was really happy that everyone came out with the energy and intensity that we had in doubles,” said Chi. “We all knew that Northwestern would bring the fight and we were ready for that. I thought we did a great job of believing in our team.”
With Duke on the verge of clinching, Northwestern fought back to extend the match. On court one, Samantha Harris had won the first set 6-3, but Larner fought back to win the second and extend the match. On courts three and four, McCarthy and Kelly Chen both took first set leads on Lipp and Byrne, respectively, but neither could close the match as both trailed in the second set.
It looked like the Wildcats might stay alive on court six as well. Zhao cruised to a 6-4 win over Doshi in the first set. In the second, the freshman from San Diego, Calif., took a 5-4 lead and had a chance to win the match point. Doshi leveled the second set at five games apiece though, forcing Zhao to keep playing. The setback proved to be a momentary one, as Zhao won the next two games to book Duke’s place in the quarterfinals.
“It gives me so much confidence,” Zhao said. “I know every opponent is so good, everyone works so hard to get to this moment. So getting through such a tough match, getting through two sets gives me a lot of confidence. I just tried to keep my focus, not worrying about whether it’s the clinching point. I just kept my focus on my match.”
The Blue Devils will get a day to recover before the quarterfinals. Duke will battle Texas Tech at 12:00 noon on Saturday afternoon for a spot in the semifinals. The match is scheduled to take place at the Wake Forest Tennis Center.
1. 9 Kaitlyn McCarthy/Ellyse Hamlin (DUKE) def. #4 Erin Larner/Maddie Lipp (NORTHWESTERN) 6-4
2. #6 Kelly Chen/Samantha Harris (DUKE) vs. #37 Lee Or/Alex Chatt (NORTHWESTERN) 5-5, unfinished
3. Meible Chi/Hannah Zhao (DUKE) def. Rheeya Doshi/Julie Byrne (NORTHWESTERN) 6-4
1. #6 Samantha Harris (DUKE) vs. #38 Erin Larner (NORTHWESTERN) 6-3, 2-6, 2-1, unfinished
2. #55 Meible Chi (DUKE) def. #117 Lee Or (NORTHWESTERN) 6-1, 6-4
3. #116 Kaitlyn McCarthy (DUKE) vs. #78 Maddie Lipp (NORTHWESTERN) 6-3, 3-6, unfinished
4. #28 Kelly Chen (DUKE) vs. Julie Byrne (NORTHWESTERN) 7-5, 3-5, unfinished
5. #84 Ellyse Hamlin (DUKE) def. Alex Chatt (NORTHWESTERN) 6-3, 6-0
6. Hannah Zhao (DUKE) def. Rheeya Doshi (NORTHWESTERN) 6-4, 7-5
Doubles: (3,1) Singles: (5,2,6)