Kentucky Women's Tennis Season Wrap-Up
May 27, 2009
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kentucky had a big year as they started the year 9-0 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 19th time in the program's history. The 2009 season was marked by several upsets and major wins within the team and among individuals. The Wildcats defeated six teams in the top 50, including upsets of No. 14 Clemson and No. 17 Alabama. A major win over the elusive Florida Gators marked just the second time in program history Kentucky defeated its reptile foes.
NCAA Tournament No. 19
Since 1986, the Kentucky Wildcats have participated in the NCAA Tournament multiple times, and this year was no different as the Cats earned bid No. 19. It marked the 13th straight year UK was selected as a tournament contender. The Blue and White looked to make waves in the tourney as they were given one of the most difficult first-and second-round draws, facing Ohio State on the first day and the possibility of taking on the No. 1 overall seed in host school Northwestern. After a convincing win over the Buckeyes for the second time this season, Kentucky remained in Evanston, Ill., another day to contest the Northwestern Wildcats in the NCAA second round. Matches remained close, but the NU Wildcats maintained their top position, defeating UK 4-1. UK sophomore Lauren Meier earned the lone Kentucky win as she defeated No. 116 Lauren Lui, 6-3, 6-3, on court four.
While the team was unable to travel to College Station, Texas, for the NCAA Tournament, senior Carolina Escamilla and freshman Caroline Lilley headed to Texas A&M after being selected as an at-large bid to the NCAA Doubles Championship. UK has sent a doubles team to the tournament every year since 1999. Escamilla was no stranger to the NCAA as she headed to the tournament for the third time in her four year career. The Kentucky duo got off to a great start after being paired with the No. 3 seed, UCLA's Andrea Remynse and Yasmin Schnack. UK knocked off the Bruins in the biggest upset of the first day, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4. Escamilla and Lilley entered the Round of 16 against familiar foes, Northwestern's Georgia Rose and Lauren Lui, who they played just weeks ago. The Blue and White suffered defeat, 6-3, 6-1, cutting short its tournament run.
A Top Team All Season Long
Kentucky spent the entire season in the top 25 all but one week out of the year, with nine weeks in the top 20. The Blue and White reached top-15 status twice, landing as high as No. 13 the week of March 10, which was the best ranking since Jan. 31, 2006 when the Cats peaked at No. 12. The Wildcats finished the year ranked No. 25, marking the 18th time since 1986 UK has finished the year among the nation's top teams.
Kentucky is not known for its easy scheduling, especially with the Southeastern Conference slate at the end of the season. This year the Cats opened with a top-50 program in the Marshall Thundering Herd. UK defeated Marshall, 4-3, in Huntington, W. Va. The Wildcats improved to 7-0 in season openers since 2006 when head coach Carlos Drada took over the program. UK is now 28-1 on opening day since 1990 (nine of those years were doubleheaders).
Let's Get It Started
The 2009 Wildcat squad started the season with nine straight wins, marking the program's best start in more than 20 years. Five ranked opponents were included among the defeated teams. The most victories accrued in succession at the beginning of the season was six, accomplished twice by Coach Drada in 2007 and former head coach Mark Guilbeau in 1999. After a 9-0 start, Kentucky and Alabama were the only two conference schools boasting the impressive start to their seasons.
The Wildcats improved the team's winning streak to eight after caging the No. 14 Clemson Tigers in Lexington, 4-3. Freshman Caroline Lilley's strong match play gave the Wildcats the upset over Clemson. The Tigers had just come off their first conference win by defeating No. 4 Georgia Tech, but Kentucky proved to be too much for the second year in a row. Last season, the Blue and White captured a 5-2 win in Clemson, S.C., over the top-20 team. UK took the doubles point as well as wins by Whitney Spencer, Caroline Lilley and Sarah Woestmann for the 4-3 upset.
Historic Win Over Gators
UK started the intense SEC portion of their schedule with the feisty Florida Gators. In the history of the two schools' meetings, all 32 times, Kentucky had only rolled the Gators once. The first time was in 2005 as the Cats won 5-2 at home on March 13. The 2009 season would allow the Wildcats to add one more win to the record book. UK took the doubles point, a major factor in the match. Kentucky went on to take wins in singles on courts three, five and six with Christine Johnston, Caroline Lilley and Lauren Meier, respectively. Lilley's 6-3, 6-1 victory over Barbara Pinterova sealed the deal after the match was tied at 3-3.
For the previous two years, the Wildcats have started the year strong with at least four straight wins. However, the Indiana Hoosiers had managed to abruptly bring Kentucky's winning runs to a halt. In 2007, the Hoosiers defeated UK, 5-2, in Bloomington, Ind., after the Cats started the year 6-0. Again in 2008, the Wildcats started strong at 4-0 but were brought to their knees in Indiana, 4-3. But this season the Cats hosted a match on their own turf as the 2009 squad upended IU, 6-1, to improve to 7-0 on the season and earn UK's first win against the Hoosiers since 2005.
Kentucky vs. Ohio State
Kentucky faced the Scarlet and Gray twice this season. During the first matchup this season, the Wildcats and Buckeyes played for five long hours. UK dropped the doubles point and looked to make a comeback in singles play. Columbus, Ohio, native Christine Johnston came up with the first Kentucky win followed by Whitney Spencer and Megan Broderick. Ohio State came back to tie it at three all, notching wins on courts two and six. Freshman Caroline Lilley was left alone on court five to secure the win. After falling behind 3-0 in the third set, Lilley came back to lead 5-4 and bring home the eventual win. UK and OSU met again in the NCAA first round in Evanston, Ill. This match was not as dramatic as the Cats took the doubles point and won the first three singles matches to advance in the tournament.
Senior Salute, Carolina Escamilla
The Blue and White will only have to say goodbye to one senior, Medellin, Colombia, native, Carolina Escamilla. During her senior year she has played primarily at the one and two positions in singles and at the top spot in doubles. She continues to be in the rankings with any doubles partner, ranking top 20 with junior Christine Johnston earlier this season and ranking as high as No. 29 with current partner freshman Caroline Lilley. She has clinched three matches this year against Marshall, ETSU and Alabama. Escamilla and Lilley have defeated three ranked foes, with their biggest upset against UCLA's No. 3 Andrea Remynse and Yasmin Schnack at the NCAA Doubles Tournament.
Freshman Caroline Lilley
A walk-on from Portland, Ore., Caroline Lilley played a big role on the Kentucky 2009 squad. She was awarded two conference honors as the SEC Freshman of the Week, first for her performance against Ohio State and then again vs. Clemson. Last season Megan Broderick earned the same award three times. Lilley clinched five matches, EKU (6-1), Ohio State (4-3), Clemson (4-3), Florida (4-3) and South Florida (5-2). In doubles Lilley qualified for the NCAA Doubles Tournament with senior Carolina Escamilla advancing into the Round of 16.
The Wildcats welcomed the addition of Minnette Pienaar and Chanè Hines in January 2009. Both come from towns in South Africa, Pienaar from Graaff-Reinet and Hines from Johannesburg. Pienaar won the South African Junior Nationals in singles and doubles and was chosen for the South African team to take part in the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee tournament. She has been ranked top-five in singles and doubles in 2008 in the South African rankings. Hines attended British International Distance College and was coached by Ross Nemeth.