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No. 14 Virginia dominates VCU, USC, stays perfect

The Cavaliers rout two top-50 opponents to remain undefeated

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The No. 14 Virginia women’s tennis team continued its strong start to the season, trouncing No. 44 VCU and No. 33 South Carolina in Charlottesville this weekend. Virginia (3-0) easily defeated VCU 6-1 Friday before fighting for a 5-2 victory against the Gamecocks Sunday.

The Cavaliers and the Rams (2-4) know each other well, with the two squads meeting just a week ago at the U.Va. Winter Invite. The results of the previous meeting were much the same as this weekend’s dual, with Virginia sweeping all six courts against their in-state rival.

Unfortunately for VCU, the Cavaliers were immediately able to imitate this prior performance, clinching the doubles point to take a quick 1-0 lead.

Virginia carried the momentum over from doubles play into singles competition, with the top five courts cruising to straight set victories. Sophomore Maci Epstein — returning from a foot injury last season — secured the win with a 6-1, 6-4 victory against No. 5 freshman Olga Barsheuskaya. The only loss of the afternoon came on court No. 6 , where senior Li Xi lost a tough battle to VCU senior Daria Yakauleva 4-6, 6-0, 10-7.

“It’s awesome to know that I held the team that much,” Epstein said. “I’ve been working a lot on my energy and just knowing I’ve done so much in being able to get there and play well was pretty cool.”

Virginia hosted a strong South Carolina (3-1) team Sunday, but was able to maintain an undefeated record.

“We knew it was going to be a great match, with two teams that are really committed to giving their best,” coach Mark Guilbeau said. “[South Carolina] has a very athletic team so in some ways we wanted to be the team that tried to create the offense.”

South Carolina set the tone early by putting up a strong fight in doubles competition. Epstein and sophomore partner Stephanie Nauta gave Virginia an advantage at the No. 3 spot against the South Carolina duo of sophomore Ximena Siles Luna and freshman Caroline Dailey.

The eighth-ranked pair sophomore Julia Elbaba and freshman Rachel Pierson was able to clinch the doubles point after a long battle at No. 1. The 7-5 victory against South Carolina juniors Elixane Lechemia and Meghan Blevins helped the Cavaliers mentally prepare for singles competition.

“We all knew that it was going to be a tough match,” Elbaba said. “They put us on our toes to start, so we knew that we’d have a battle for singles, and it actually worked out for the best.”

Despite the tough doubles battle, Elbaba easily defeated Lechemia 6-1, 6-3 at the top singles spot to give the Cavaliers an early 2-0 lead. Conversely, Pierson felt the impact of the taxing doubles match as South Carolina freshman Brigit Folland attempted to take advantage of the worn-out Cavalier.

“It was a little mentally stressful and I think it took a bit out of me,” Pierson said. “We really had to fight through that doubles and I had to put a lot of energy with Julia in that.”

Although she was running on fumes, Pierson pulled off a 7-6(6) tiebreaker in the first set, putting herself in position to win the match. Folland, however, forced a third set with a tight 4-6 victory in the second set. The standout Virginia freshman would not be denied in the third, though, and pulled out a grueling 10-5 victory in the deciding set to give the Cavaliers a 3-0 lead.

“Her game kind of threw me off a little bit, so I was just thinking point by point, focusing on the now instead of the game score,” Pierson said. “I was a little bummed about [the second set] so I was thinking, ‘Alright, what am I going to do in this tiebreaker?’”

The Gamecocks fought hard to come back, securing victories on courts two and five, but it was too little, too late. Freshman Marie Faure clinched the win for Virginia with a 6-2, 6-4 victory against Dailey on court No. 6.

Although the final score reflects a dominating performance from the Cavaliers, the young squad undoubtedly learned a great deal from its showdown with the Gamecocks. Virginia jumped to an early lead, but nearly allowed South Carolina to climb back into the match. The Cavaliers hope struggles with adversity like those experienced Sunday will pay off as they move deeper into the season.

“Matches where you really get pushed are the most important thing you can have before you play in that national championship,” Guilbeau said. “In that first round match we’re probably going to be facing a team ranked higher than us, so it’s going to be a task.”

The Cavaliers will return to the Boar’s Head Sports Club this weekend, where they will host the 2014 ITA National Team Indoor Championships.


Published February 3, 2014 in Sports

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