Still 'Roel'ing: Cats Claw from Behind to Defeat Miami, 4-3
May 10, 2003
LEXINGTON, Ky. - By way of a comeback as stunning as it was improbable, the 12th-ranked Kentucky women's tennis team fought its way to a breath-taking 4-3 victory over 24th-ranked Miami Saturday afternoon at UK's Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex. Kentucky dropped the doubles point but managed to pull out four singles victories to earn a trip to Gainesville, Fla. for the NCAA Women's Tennis Championships next week.
Miami captured a pair of 8-3 victories in doubles play to take a 1-0 lead. Kentucky's Amy Trefethen would even the tally at one with a 6-3, 6-3 victory at No. 5 singles over Miami's Sihem Bennacer. As if on cue, the Hurricanes immediately struck back as Staci Stevens recorded a 6-2, 6-3 victory over UK's Shannon Stafford to regain the lead for Miami. Kentucky's Jill Buckley eliminated Miami's notions of pulling away by defeating Mari Toro, 6-3, 6-3. Megan Bradley's hard-fought three-set victory over UK's Sarah Witten at No. 1 would set the stage for a pair of freshman heroines.
UK freshman Shannon Stough dropped her first set at No. 6 before battling back to take the second. In the third set, Stough denied the Canes' bid for victory, taking the third set to defeat Sara Robbins, tying the score at three and completing one part of Kentucky's two-fold triumph.
After winning her first set at No. 2, freshman Nathalie Roels found herself in control in the second set against Melissa Applebaum, taking a commanding 5-1 lead. However, Roels surrendered four consecutive games before taking a 6-5 lead, only to see the lead evaporate after Applebaum tied the set at six. Applebaum took command in the tiebreaker and sent the match to a third set. After Roels fell behind 2-0, the native Belgian won two straight games, instigating a memorable battle for a trip to the NCAA Women's Tennis Championships.
Applebaum and Roels proceeded to trade punches as if they were heavyweight boxers out to wear down their opponents. Roels would serve up an ace, and on another serve, Applebaum would respond with a clever return. All told, Roels fell on the short end of a 5-4 deficit, rejected three championship points and tied the third set at five. As if one had doubted the freshman's poise, Roels fell behind 6-5 before storming back to force a third-set tiebreaker. After falling behind early, Roels seized control of the tiebreaker. The freshman's ability to secure the final match-clinching point was rewarded by a mob of ecstatic teammates as a dejected Miami squad watched in disbelief.
Kentucky Coach Mark Guilbeau reveled in the victory.
"I can't say how happy I am for these kids. So often, they don't get the rewards they deserve. I have the greatest feeling for them right now. A victory like this really shows this team the value of hard work," Guilbeau said.
As for Roels, Guilbeau never doubted the mettle of his battle-tested freshman.
"I felt really good about her chances to win, even though she had to fight back from match points. Nathalie wasn't going to give an easy point. I was really able to relax because of Nathalie's focus."
Roels believed her complacency in the second set ultimately led to her will to deliver the improbable victory for Kentucky.
"When I had the 5-1 lead in the second set, I thought I had the win in my pocket. When I lost the second set, I knew it was time to be focused on winning this match for our seniors. We have five great seniors, and I wanted to win so badly for them," Roels said.
Kentucky's dramatic victory sends the Wildcats to the NCAA Women's Tennis Championships for a second-consecutive season. The event is scheduled to kick off next week at the University of Florida.
Doubles 1. Sarah Witten/Amy Trefethen (UK) vs. Melissa Applebaum/Megan Bradley (UM) SUSPENDED 2. Igna deVilliers/Abby Smith (UM) def. Leigh Bradwell/Jill Buckley (UK) 8-3 3. Staci Stevens/Mari Toro (UM) def. Shannon Stafford/Nathalie Roels (UK) 8-3