CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (UT release) -- A promising season that saw the Tennessee Lady Vol tennis team rise to as high as No. 5 in the national rankings came to a close Saturday afternoon at the Snyder Tennis Center in the same manner that it started, with a loss to Virginia - this time 4-1.
Playing at regional host Virginia, the Lady Vols (15-13) were competing for a chance to advance to the NCAA Tournament Round of 16 for the 10th time in program history.
But Virginia won a competitive doubles point and took five of the first six opening sets in singles, never allowing Tennessee to gain any momentum.
Tennessee, which opened the season 9-3, totaled six Top 25 wins and had a 14-5 record when playing with a complete lineup, saw five players miss at least singles action in a combined 25 matches in 2012 due to multiple injuries and illnesses.
"We've had a broken foot, a shoulder problem, an ACL tear, strep throat, a sprained ankle and just a plethora of injuries that you can't afford with a small team," co-head coach Mike Patrick said. "Our girls hung together and did what they could do. We made it to the tournament, played a good match yesterday and competed as hard as we could today."
But the Lady Vols return six players in 2013 that saw action this season.
"We have a lot of young players and we have some new kids coming in," Patrick said. "The future looks bright. Our whole program is based on a lot of hard work and when you're not able to do that hard work, you come up a little bit short at the end. It's not from a lack of trying. We had a lot of things to overcome and we did the best we could."
That mark includes three returning freshmen that made up the fifth-ranked recruiting class a year ago, a unit bolstered by the addition of Jesse Grace after the fact.
"I know how good they can be," Patrick said. "They were more snake bit than anybody. Caitlyn, Sarah and Jo have all faced some major obstacles this year. Hopefully, if adversity is going to make them stronger, we're going to be pretty darn strong next year."
Tennessee scored its lone point Saturday via Kata Szekely's 6-1, 6-4 win over No. 118 Li Xi, which brought UT within 2-1 before Virginia tacked on its final two points.
Szekely was one of three Lady Vols selected to the NCAA Singles Tournament in Athens, Ga., which begins May 23. She'll also participate in the doubles tournament with Natalie Pluskota.
Szekely enters the individual tournament with six consecutive wins, which is a season-best and matches a career-high for the third time.
The Lady Vols played a tightly contested doubles point, which Virginia captured with victories on courts two and three.
Maria Fuccillo and Lindsey Hardenbergh defeated UT's Joanna Henderson and Jesse Grace, 8-0, to put the Cavaliers in position to take the point.
Brynn Boren and Caitlyn Williams traded games back and forth with 43rd-ranked Hana Tomljanovic and Erin Vierra to lead 4-3 before the Virginia duo reeled off three straight games for a 6-4 advantage.
Boren and Williams bounced back to tie it at six, but Tomljanovic and Vierra closed out the match and the doubles point with an 8-6 win. Pluskota and Szekely led 5-4 at the time, but did not complete their match.
Virginia went ahead 2-0 with Vierra's win over Henderson before Szekely shrunk UT's deficit back to one.
Caryssa Peretz and Hardenbergh closed out the match almost simultaneously with straight-set wins over the Lady Vols.
Virginia will play Duke on Thursday in Athens, Ga., while Tennessee awaits the individual tournaments that follow.
Boren, Pluskota and Szekely will all compete in singles, while Pluskota and Szekely will represent Tennessee in doubles. Draws will be released on May 22.
"We'll let them know what our expectations are and I think they know what it is," Patrick said of the promising future. "We're going to come back. We're going to be older, wiser, stronger, faster, healthier and all those things."
#14 Virginia 4, #23 Tennessee 1
NCAA TOURNAMENT - SECOND ROUND
1. #35 Natalie Pluskota (UT) vs. #22 Emily Fraser (UVa) 3-6, 5-4 DNF
2. #43 Lindsey Hardenbergh (UVa) def. #32 Brynn Boren (UT) 6-4, 6-1
3. #57 Kata Szekely (UT) def. #118 Li Xi (UVa) 6-1, 6-4
4. Caitlyn Williams (UT) vs. #125 Hana Tomljanovic (UVa) 4-6, 2-4 DNF
5. Erin Vierra (UVa) def. Joanna Henderson (UT) 6-0, 6-1
6. Caryssa Peretz (UVa) def. Jesse Grace (UT) 6-4, 6-3
1. #10 Natalie Pluskota/Kata Szekely (UT) vs. #31 Emily Fraser/Li Xi (UVa) 5-4 DNF
2. #43 Hana Tomljanovic/Erin Vierra (UVa) def. Brynn Boren/Caitlyn Williams (UT) 8-6
3. Maria Fuccillo/Lindsey Hardenbergh (UVa) def. Joanna Henderson/Jesse Grace (UT) 8-0
Order of finish: Doubles (3, 2); Singles (5, 3, 6, 2)
Records: Tennessee (15-13), Virginia (20-7)
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