USC women ousted from NCAA Tournament

The 29th-ranked South Carolina women’s tennis team suffered a narrow 4-2 loss to No. 8 Virginia on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Sheridan Snyder Tennis Center in Charlottesville, Va. The Gamecocks, who defeated Princeton, 4-3, in the first round, ended the season with a 15-11 record. The Cavaliers improved to 23-5 and advanced to the NCAA Championships in Waco, Texas, that begin May 15. Virginia will face either Baylor or Rice in the Sweet 16.

Virginia took the doubles point with a pair of victories on courts two and three. Cassie Mercer and Stephanie Nauta won first at two, 8-3, against Meghan Blevins and Megen Cochran, and Danielle Collins and Maci Epstein upended Elixane Lechemia and Ximena Siles Luna, 8-2, at three to clinch the doubles point for the Cavaliers. At one, No. 40 Caroline Dailey and Hadley Berg had a 5-3 lead against Virginia’s No. 28-ranked Julia Elbaba and Skylar Morton when play was stopped.

Berg wasted no time getting the Gamecocks right back in the match with a straight-set victory at the No. 6 spot. She defeated Mercer 6-3, 6-0 to pull the match even in recording her 20th singles win of the season. The freshman finished her first NCAA Tournament with a 3-0 combined singles and doubles record.

The Cavaliers answered right back with Epstein taking out yesterday’s hero for the Gamecocks, Siles Luna, at No. 5 singles by scores of 6-2, 6-0. Siles Luna clinched South Carolina’s win over Princeton in the first round yesterday with a three-set victory. The junior finished the season with a 19-8 record in singles and went 12-3 in dual matches.

Brigit Folland tied up the score once again, 2-all, after she pushed past Morton at the four spot, 6-4, 6-3, to record her 22nd victory this season. No. 40 Nauta, though, dealt the Gamecocks another blow with her 6-1, 6-4 triumph over Blevins at No. 3 to give the Cavaliers the lead yet again.

With the score 3-2 in favor of UVa, Virginia’s No. 6 Elbaba held a one-set-to-love lead on No. 45 Lechemia at one, but the Gamecock senior gained the upper hand early in the second set and held on to win, 6-4, after losing the first, 7-5. Meanwhile, No. 121 Dailey had taken the first set from No. 15 and defending NCAA singles champion Collins in a tiebreaker at two, 9-7, but Collins rebounded to win the second, 6-4, after coming back from a 3-0 hole to force a third set.

Dailey defeated Collins during the regular season when the Gamecocks took a 5-2 loss in Charlottesville in January, and she looked to do it again after the two split the first four games of the third set. From there, however, Collins managed to leap ahead 4-2 and then had a chance to push it to 5-2, but Dailey saved a game point to keep the deficit at just one. Collins shifted into an even higher gear in the next two games, winning seven straight rallies to set up triple match point. Dailey saved one, but Collins put the contest in the books on her second try to thrust Virginia into the Sweet 16 for the fifth year in a row.

At one, Lechemia managed to take the first game of the third set and her match with Elbaba was subsequently suspended during the second frame as Collins closed out Dailey on court two.

Despite the loss, the Gamecocks have won at least one round in the NCAA Tournament 18 times in their 21 consecutive appearances. South Carolina’s streak of 21 straight bids is tied for the 11th longest active streak in the country and their 25 overall appearances is 13th most in NCAA history.

The season is still not complete for Lechemia, as she will compete in the 64-woman NCAA Singles Championship that begins May 20 in Waco. Draws for the tournament will be announced the day before the event begins.