ATLANTA, Ga. – In a match much closer than the final score might indicate, the 25th-ranked University of Tennessee women’s tennis team was defeated, 4-0, by No. 3 and defending national champion Georgia Tech (21-5), Saturday afternoon at the Bill Moore Tennis Center in Atlanta, Ga. The loss marks the end of the 2008 campaign for the Lady Vols who finish with a 15-10 record, tying for their most wins in the past five seasons.
“I can not even begin to describe how proud I am of our team today,” UT co-head coach Mike Patrick said. “We fought about as hard as we are capable of fighting. We just ran into an extremely deep and talented team in Georgia Tech. There is a reason that they are the defending national champions and they showed that this afternoon.
“As tough as this loss is, it is hard not to be excited about the future of our program,” Patrick said. “We have a lot of young talent returning next season. If we can continue to improve as much as we did over the course of this year, we should be able to make some noise over the next few seasons.”
The two teams engaged in an absolute battle in the doubles portion of the contest with Tennessee looking very strong early on after taking commanding leads on the first two courts/ But the Yellow Jackets were not going to go down without a fight. The same can be said for the UT combo of sophomore Connor Vogel and freshman Jennifer Meredith on court three, which fought back to within a point (5-6) after falling behind by three (3-6) against Christy Striplin and Kirsten Flower. The Georgia Tech duo, however, regained control and claimed the final two games to give its squad the early advantage.
Literally just seconds later, however, the 16th-ranked Tennessee tandem of sophomores Caitlin Whoriskey and Zsófia Zubor evened the score with a solid 8-6 triumph over the Yellow Jacket pairing of Kristi Miller and Sasha Krupina. The Lady Vol team quickly jumped ahead 5-2 before the Georgia Tech squad rallied to bring the score to 6-5. An overhead smash by Whoriskey, however, gave UT the following game before GT made it 7-6 behind the strong serving of Krupina. The Big Orange was undeterred though and claimed victory on a cross-court volley by Zubor. The win moved the duo’s record to 25-10 and marked its 11th triumph over a ranked opponent this season.
With the first two matches complete, all eyes turned to the second court where the score was knotted at seven-all between Georgia Tech’s Whitney McCray and Noelle Hickey and the Tennessee duo of senior Ghizela Schutte and freshman Rosalía Alda. It had not always been that close though, as UT had won six of the first seven games to take a 6-1 advantage before the Yellow Jackets flew back into it with five consecutive games of their own. Schutte and Alda stopped the streak and took a 7-6 lead, but McCray and Hickey answered right back to tie the match just as the other two contests ended.
The Georgia Tech pairing utilized the momentum that it had just generated and fed off the energy of the crowd to hold serve in the next game and go ahead 8-7. Needing to win the game to force a tiebreaker, Schutte and Alda fought hard but fell just short, with an overhead smash by McCray sealing the deal and giving the Yellow Jackets the first tally on the scoreboard.
Unfortunately for fans of the Orange and White, Georgia Tech continued to apply the pressure in singles play, winning the first set in five of the six matches. Zubor was the lone Lady Vol to win her initial frame, downing Flower, 6-3. On court two, however, Yellow Jacket sophomore and the nation’s No. 7 singles player, Amanda McDowell put her squad up 2-0 with a 6-2, 6-0 triumph over Schutte, ending the UT senior’s distinguished career. The native of Cape Town, South Africa concludes her four-year stay on Rocky Top with an impressive 62-46 singles record and the 15th-most doubles wins in Lady Vol history with a mark of 65-50.
“I am extremely sad that Ghizela is leaving our program,” Patrick said. “She has not only been a terrific player, but an amazing leader as well. I could not be any more proud of a single player and what she has accomplished over the past two seasons, despite playing through as much pain as she has during that time. Ghizela will be dearly missed, but I am confident that she will be successful in all of her future endeavors.”
Shortly after McDowell’s win over Schutte, Georgia Tech made it a 3-0 advantage with No. 77 Christy Striplin taking out Vogel, 6-0, 6-2, on the fourth court. UT refused to give up and continued to battle, but Hickey struck the final blow, clinching the win for the Yellow Jackets with a hard-fought, 6-4, 6-4, victory over Alda at the sixth position in the lineup.
With the outcome of the match decided, the final three contests were halted. On center court, the 41st-rated Whoriskey was in the midst of a tight contest with No. 10 Miller, but was trailing 6-4, 5-4. At the third slot, junior Samantha Orlin was down 5-4 in the second frame after dropping the first, 6-4, to No. 51 McCray. Finally, on the fifth court, after splitting the first two sets with No. 46 Flower, 6-3, 0-6, Zubor was leading 2-1 in the third frame.
Despite the team portion of the schedule coming to an end, a pair of Lady Vols will continue playing this season when Whoriskey and Zubor travel to the University of Tulsa May 21-26 for the NCAA Individual Championships. The duo will team up to participate in the doubles draw, while Whoriskey will also compete in the singles competition.