WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. After inclement weather not only moved Sunday's Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship match out of Cary, N.C., and indoors to Wake Forest's indoor tennis complex, a lot was uncertain for the Blue Devils. Would the fans commute? Would the team remain focused on the task at hand? The answer was yes, as Duke rallied back from a lost doubles point to win four singles matches, defeat rival North Carolina, 4-2, and claim its 17th ACC title in program history.
"Even after we didn't play great doubles, we were on our heels a little bit, and we came out and played proud and with passion," said head coach Jamie Ashworth. "I'm really happy for them [the team]. I'm really happy for the program overall. It's been a couple years since we brought the trophy back to Durham, so it means a lot for all the work they've put in."
The second-ranked and top-seeded Blue Devils are 21-0 when winning the doubles point this season, but even that astounding record became irrelevant. North Carolina (22-6, 10-1 ACC) got a quick start, as Caroline Price and Gina Suarez-Malaguti rolled past sophomore Hanna Mar and freshman Annie Mulholland, 8-1, in the No. 3 doubles match. The Blue Devils countered however, as the 27th-ranked duo comprised of sophomore Rachel Kahan and freshman Beatrice Capra collected an 8-5 win over 69th-ranked Haley Hemm and Tessa Lyons in the No. 2 spot.
The No. 1 doubles match pitted Duke's 23rd-ranked tandem of junior Mary Clayton and freshman EsterGoldfeld against the Tar Heels' third-ranked Lauren McHale and Shinann Featherston. The Blue Devil unit upset North Carolina's highly-touted doubles team just 10 days prior in the regular season battle, but McHale and Featherston got a little redemption Sunday, defeating Clayton and Goldfeld, 8-3, on their way to clinching the doubles point and giving North Carolina a 1-0 lead heading into singles play.
"We were really composed after doubles," Ashworth stated. "We've lost doubles points before, and I said it's going to come down to trusting each other and believing in each other. It's kind of the same thing we've been doing."
Kahan, the nation's No. 92 player, wasted no time in her No. 3 singles bout against the 97th-ranked Featherston, cruising to an impressive 6-1, 6-1 victory. Capra, ranked second in the country, followed up Kahan's effort with a 6-0, 6-4 triumph over the 34th-ranked McHale in the No. 1 spot to put the Blue Devils ahead 2-1.
"She's a really tough competitor," Capra said of McHale. "This was my first ACC experience. I've played a lot of tournaments in my life, but I've never played for a team like this. I wanted to win so badly."
The Tar Heels would respond as 37th-ranked Zoe de Bruycker outlasted No. 111 Goldfeld in a three-set thriller in the No. 2 spot. De Bruycker easily won the first set, 6-1, but Goldfeld responded with a 6-3 second set victory. Trailing 4-2 in the third set, Goldfeld was able to fight off North Carolina's momentum, break de Bruycker and force a 6-6 tie-breaker. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native led 4-2 in the tie-break, but de Bruycker rallied back to finish off Goldfeld, 7-5, win the third set and tie the overall match at two apiece.
"Ester staying on the court was really important because it didn't give them any momentum," Ashworth said of Goldfeld's relentless performance. "She fought and competed. Honestly, after that match, I didn't even know if she won or lost. She came over and started cheering and didn't feel sorry for herself. Being able to stay on the court was really important."
Despite the even score, Duke had already built enough momentum on courts four, five and six with each respective match in the middle of its third and deciding set. Mar, ranked No. 49, won a strong first set by a 6-2 margin, but fell 6-4 to a resilient and 94th-ranked Price in the No. 4 spot. The Burr Ridge, Ill., native made the third set count with a 6-1 win, and put Duke within one victory of clinching the match.
After dropping a tough first set, 7-6, to Lyons in the No. 6 spot, freshman and 88th-ranked Monica Turewicz saved some of her best tennis for last. The Lake Forest, Ill., product countered with a 6-3 second set victory, before notching a 6-2 win in the deciding set to clinch the match and being hugged and congratulated by on-looking teammates.
"My mindset was she [Lyons] would have to try her best to try and beat me in the second and third sets," Turewicz said. "I knew I wasn't going to back down. It wasn't over. I started over from the second set and just grinded it out."
Despite six of Duke's eight players being just freshmen or sophomores, the Blue Devils became the first team in league history to garner a perfect 11-0 regular season record and win the ACC Tournament.
"I felt that we've had a lot of success this year, but it was important that we won something," Ashworth said. "We lost in the finals of [ITA National] Indoors and this team needed to have a championship moment. I'm really proud of the way they handled themselves."
In her first season at Duke, Capra was named the ACC Tournament's Most Valuable Player, the program's first player to earn the honor since Mallory Cecil as part of the program's 2009 ACC Championship victory.
"These girls have helped me so much with adjusting to college," Capra mentioned. "I'm so happy I was able to help us win as a team, and I hope this brings us together even more."
#2 Duke 4, #8 North Carolina 2 Apr. 22, 2012 at Winston-Salem, N.C. (Wake Forest Tennis Complex)