Cats Claw Past Tulane, 4-1
ATHENS, Ga. – Third-seeded Kentucky (26-5) scored a victory 17 years in the making Thursday, as the Cats opened its fourth-consecutive appearance at the NCAA Women’s Tennis Team Championships with a 4-1 win over 14th-seeded Tulane at Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex. As a result, Kentucky will make its first NCAA quarterfinal appearance since 1988 when the Cats take on 11th-seeded Texas, a 4-3 winner over sixth-seeded Georgia Tech. Tulane’s season, as well as its 17-match win streak, comes to an end at 25-6.
Kentucky’s Aibika Kalsarieva and Sarah Foster opened the doubles competition with a decisive 8-2 win at No. 1 over Tulane’s Darya and Maria Ivanov. The Tulane pair of Jenny Kuhn and Julie Smekodub was equally impressive at the No. 2 slot, scoring an 8-3 win over UK’s Kim Coventry and Joelle Schwenk. Kentucky’s Emily Foster and Lara Maurer engaged in quite a match against TU’s Nancy Kockott and Ana Maria Saaibi to decide the doubles outcome. The two teams held serve through the first nine games before Foster and Maurer broke Tulane’s service in the 10th game to take a 6-4 lead. The Wildcat tandem took the final two games to clinch the match and the doubles point.
At the fourth singles position, UK’s Schwenk broke Tulane’s Darya Ivanov at 3-3, held serve the rest of the way and broke once again to win the first set, 6-3. Ivanov drew within 4-3 in the second set after Schwenk assumed a 4-1 lead, but Schwenk held off Ivanov to win, 6-3 and give the Cats a 2-0 lead. UK’s Maurer registered a successful rally in the first set against TU’s Kockott at No. 5 singles. After trailing 5-3 in the first set, Maurer stormed back to take the final four games on her way to a first-set win. Just as Schwenk held off a rally at No. 4, Maurer deterred a late rally from Kockott to win the second set, 6-3, giving UK a 3-0 lead.
UK’s Sarah Foster took the first set, 6-4, against Tulane’s Smekodub at No. 3, though Smekodub overpowered Foster in the second set to force a third. Foster broke Smekodub in the sixth game of the third set to pull even at three apiece, but Smekodub answered with a service break of her own to take a 4-3 lead. Foster held game points to break once more, but Smekodub held off Foster to take the game and the match with a 6-3 third-set win.
At first singles, UK’s Kalsarieva trailed 4-3 but broke Tulane’s Maria Ivanov to pull even at four apiece in the first set. Kalsarieva served out and broke once more to take the set, 6-3. Ivanov responded with a 6-2 second-set win to force a decisive third set. Kalsarieva opened with a 2-0 lead only to see Ivanov record two service breaks to take a 3-2 lead. The SEC Player of the Year bounced back with two breaks and held service for a 5-3 lead. Ivanov managed one more service break, but Kalsarieva put Ivanov away in the end, 6-4, to clinch the Wildcat victory. With the outcome of the match in hand, the remaining matches at Nos. 2 and 6 were suspended.
UK’s Coventry forced a third set at No. 2 after trailing Tulane’s Jenny Kuhn. Coventry faced 4-2 and and 5-4 deficits but thwarted Kuhn’s designs on a victory by evening the set at five all before the match was suspended.
Kentucky’s Danielle Petrisko held a 4-1 first-set lead at No. 6 only to see TU’s Ana Maria Saaibi respond by winning the last five games to win the set, 6-4. Petrisko followed Saaibi’s lead in the second set, coming back from a 4-2 deficit to win the set, 6-4. Petrisko held a 5-2 lead when the match was called.
Coach Mark Guilbeau was encouraged by the Cats’ effort on day one in Athens.
“I think based on the level of play that this is a great, great win, for the simple fact that you’re in the round of 16 and facing one of the best 16 teams in the country,” Guilbeau said. “It’s a very good win. Tulane tried everything they could on and off the court, and our kids were absolutely professional, composed and even better because of that challenge. This is when we’re at our best, when everyone on our team is contributing. Each of our players was in this match.”
Guilbeau understands the significance of getting the Cats to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time in nearly two decades.
“I think it’s incredible. It’s important for these kids. They’re experiencing something that very, very few programs ever experience. I think that’s the significance of it. It’s a great reward and accomplishment for these kids. On top of that, I love the fact right now that we finished this match completely looking like we’re ready for more.”
Guilbeau welcomes the challenge the Cats await from Big-12 Champion Texas.
“It should be another great match. Texas is a well-coached team with a lot of tradition. I can’t tell you what they’ll bring, but all I want to talk about is what we’ll bring. I feel really good about what we will bring to the match tomorrow.”
The Cats will take on Texas Friday at 3 p.m. EDT. Live scoring will be available at georgiadogs.com.
NOTES: Kentucky improves to 13-15 in NCAA tournament play and 12-8 under Mark Guilbeau … UK now holds a 7-3 mark on neutral courts, and improves to 11-2 in outdoor matches and 3-1 in neutral-court outdoor matches … UK now owns a 22-8 season record in doubles play … Kentucky improves to 21-1 when winning the doubles point … Kentucky won its only meeting with Texas.
No. 3 Kentucky 4, No. 16 (14 seed) Tulane 1