Texas captures Big 12 Championship, defeats Texas A&M, 4-2

Longhorns claim eighth Big 12 Championship and their first since 2005; Elizabeth Begley selected as the Big 12 Championship’s Most Outstanding Performer.

COLLEGE STATION – Cierra Gaytan-Leach punctuated a come-from-behind, three-set win with a service ace, as fourth-seeded Texas (17-7) collected the doubles point and three singles wins to seal a 4-2 win over third-seeded host Texas A&M (18-5) Sunday in the finals of the 2012 Big 12 Championship.

Texas claims its eighth Big 12 Championship – its first since 2005 – and the first for seventh-year head coach Patty Fendick-McCain, who has led the Horns to the finals of the Big 12 Championship in each of her seven seasons in Austin. Texas becomes just the second fourth-seeded team to win the Big 12 Championship. Oklahoma State was the last No. 4 seed to win the event in 2003.

Texas sophomore Elizabeth Begley was selected as the Big 12 Championship’s Most Outstanding Performer after going 3-0 in singles play without dropping a set. The Houston native completed the regular season with a 9-0 mark against conference foes and improved that mark to 12-0 with her victories this weekend over Oklahoma State’s Isabela Miro, Texas Tech’s Nikki Sanders and Texas A&M’s Sheri Olivier.

The Horns won matches at the first and second doubles matches to assume a 1-0 lead before adding wins from Begley, freshman Lina Padegimaite and the clincher from Cierra Gaytan-Leach to seal the victory, which was punctuated by a Gaytan-Leach ace on match point.

At second doubles, UT’s Krista Damico and Gaytan-Leach led off by breaking the 16-match winning streak of A&M’s Janelle Cuthbertson and Nazari Urbina. UT raced out to a 5-0 lead behind three service breaks. A&M closed within 5-2, but Texas cruised to an 8-3 win. Texas’ Begley and Aeriel Ellis held a 5-3 lead over the Aggies’ Sheri Olivier and Lauren Santacroce at third doubles, but the Aggies claimed the next three games to assume a 6-5 lead. Texas held serve to even the match at six games apiece, but A&M held and broke the Horns in the final game to take an 8-6 win.

Texas’ Padegimaite and Noel Scott broke the Aggies’ Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar and Wen Sun to take a 4-3 lead at first doubles. UT held serve and broke once more for a 6-3 lead. Both teams held serve the rest of the way, and A&M failed to put a final Scott serve in play, as UT claimed the match, 8-4 to nail down the doubles point.

Begley made short work of A&M’s Olivier at sixth singles, as she posted a 6-0, 6-1 win to push the Texas lead to 2-0. Padegimaite, who joined Begley to finish 9-0 in conference play, remained undefeated against league foes, as she notched a 6-0, 6-2 win over A&M’s Santacroce at fourth singles to extend the Longhorns’ lead to 3-0.

Texas A&M responded with a victory at first singles, where the Aggies’ eighth-ranked Sanchez-Quintanar topped UT’s Ellis, 6-0, 6-1. A&M pulled within 3-2 when the Aggies’ 81st-ranked Sun defeated UT’s Scott by a 6-1, 6-0 count at third singles.

At fifth singles, which proved to be the clinching point, Gaytan-Leach broke for a 3-2 first-set lead over the Aggies’ Cuthbertson. But, Cuthbertson held serve twice and broke Gaytan-Leach as many times to take the first set, 6-3. Gaytan-Leach broke for a 5-2 second-set lead before Cuthbertson broke Gaytan-Leach and held serve to close within 5-4. However, Gaytan-Leach held serve to close out the second set, 6-4.

At 1-all in the third set, Gaytan-Leach broke Cuthbertson’s serve before holding serve, breaking Cuthbertson and holding once more for a 5-1 lead. Cuthbertson held serve in the following game, but at match point in the following game, Gaytan-Leach swatted an emphatic ace to finish off the Horns’ 4-2 title-winning victory over the Aggies.

Damico and Urbina were engaged in a match at second singles that had the makings of a classic before the match was called when Gaytan-Leach nailed down the match-clinching point. Neither Damico nor Urbina held serve in the first set’s opening eight games before Damico held serve for a 5-4 lead. Damico managed to hold serve for the first time in the match to close out the first set, 6-4. Damico broke Urbina to tie the second set at three before holding serve for a 4-3 lead. Urbina held serve and broke Damico for a 5-4 lead when Gaytan-Leach’s match became final.

Texas and Texas A&M had met just 12 days prior to Sunday’s Big 12 Championship finals. The Aggies dealt the Longhorns a 4-3 defeat on April 17 in College Station. Texas and Texas A&M each tied with Baylor for second place in the final Big 12 Conference standings. Baylor, who had claimed the second seed in a tiebreaker, fell to A&M in Saturday’s semifinals, while Texas defeated top-seeded Texas Tech on Saturday to set up Sunday’s title match between the Longhorns and the Aggies.

The NCAA will announce the 64-team NCAA Tournament field on Tuesday, May 1 at 4 p.m. Central with a selection show on NCAA.com. Texas is poised to earn one of 16 No. 1 seeds available.

POST-MATCH COMMENTS
Texas head coach Patty Fendick-McCain
On winning the Big 12 Championship
It feels pretty good. We actually thought we were going to play Baylor, but the Aggies took it to them yesterday. It was fun. We played the Aggies here a couple of weeks ago and they got us then, but we knew it was going to come down to the doubles point today. That was our emphasis today.

There is really some parity in the Big 12 at this point. We are seeing every single team battling really well and playing really good tennis. We knew we had to play just about our best tennis to get through this. About four days ago we were dragging a little bit with a few speed bumps toward the end of the regular season. I am really proud of the girls and the way they were able to right the ship.

It’s special for us. We haven’t won this before. one of our goals this season was to come and win this tournament. After the bumps in the road, it seemed almost unlikely. It’s a true tribute to their resiliency and their determination and their Texas fighting spirit.

On the leadership from senior Krista Damico
I think she played some of her best tennis today, and that is what it’s all about. It’s about bringing your “A” game when you’re playing for a title. I know she’s looking forward to the rest of the season.

On winning the Big 12 Championship with a youthful roster
In tennis, youth is sometimes misleading. Experience is completely different. We have players on our squad who have played internationally. We have some American players who have played at the highest levels internationally and have garnered quite a bit of experience. Even though they’re young in terms of collegiate eligibility, they’re very settled and confident in their abilities. When somebody beats you, you might be down, but you’re not out. They knew they could rewrite their own history today, so that was fun to watch.

On Cierra Gaytan-Leach rallying from a set down to win her match
Determination is great, but you’ve got to have some strategy. I think at the beginning, she had a pretty good strategy, and then it got away from her a little bit because she was trying so hard. I went out there after the first set and just settled her down a little bit and reminded her of the game she needed to play. Her determination was going to help her do that, but she had to be able to focus on her strategy, settle herself down and do what she had done so well all season. She kept her discipline and kept her emotions in check. “I was really happy for her. She has battled really hard all season. It is good to see her playing confidently and feeling that good about herself. It is just a wonderful thing.

Texas senior Krista Damico
On winning the Big 12 Championship
It’s everything we’ve worked for this season. We definitely had some rough matches on the way here, but we came out here swinging today. We had a lot to prove. It has been a long time coming to win this Big 12 Championship. We’ve worked so hard for it. We lost to A&M during the season, and that was tough. We took that one hard. We felt like we had a lot to prove.

On the challenge of winning the Big 12 Championship
I can honestly say that out of the past four years I’ve been here, this is by far the highest standard of tennis we’ve seen in the Big 12. The competition day in and day out is so tough. It has helped our team get better.

On Cierra Gaytan-Leach clinching the match
I had just lost a really tight 4-all game, and I was upset about that. I knew the longer I stayed out there and kept fighting that hopefully I could just push her (Cierra) through it. I knew she had it in her when I heard she had won. I knew I had to shake my opponent’s hand, but all I wanted to do was just run to Cierra and go hug her. She’s only a sophomore, and she did so well. It’s a lot of pressure for her. It’s just amazing.

Texas sophomore Elizabeth Begley (Big 12 Championship’s Most Outstanding Performer)
On going undefeated against conference opponents (12-0) this season
It was really great, just awesome. I wanted to win quickly today, and I was able to support my team and help them win the Big 12 Championship. It feels great. I did it for my team. That was the most important thing I could have done, to do something important for my team this year. I really owe it to my team for helping me through this year. I set my goal early to win every conference match – every one. I didn’t want to lose to one person. That was my goal from the very beginning. I put my mind to it and I made sure that I got it done for my team.

On winning the Big 12 Championship
It feels so good. I wanted to soak up every minute of it. But, now we need to get back to work and get ready for the national championship.

Texas sophomore Cierra Gaytan-Leach
On clinching the Big 12 Championship with a service ace
It felt amazing. I couldn’t be happier. I felt amazing out there in the last two sets, and that was the way I wanted to end it, with an ace.

On rallying to win the final two sets of her match
I’m a very aggressive player. I wanted to hit the ball and use some angles and come into the net. When I did that, it worked. I wanted to serve really big and look for the short ball.

Howard Joffe, Texas A&M Head Coach
“Truthfully our kids conducted themselves like champions, but unfortunately on the scoreboard we are not champions today. I am delighted with them. They did a great job.”

(On doubles point) “I actually don’t think we did a bad job at all in the doubles. You have to give Texas some credit they played not just well, but with a ton of passion and energy. They really took it to us. In the context of the match it was huge for them.”
“I have to give them credit as well in the singles. They also played with a lot of spunk and passion.”

“If I have to sort of analyze it most honestly and unemotionally, Texas probably does have the best team. They are very, very deserving to be the champion. Ours is a team that unfortunately has lacked some depth. In our two matches against Baylor and Texas in the last two days we have not gotten beaten at No. 1, 2 or 3. There is no question that we have a very strong top of the lineup and there is no question that Texas has the best team.”

2012 Big 12 Championship – Finals
(4) Texas 4, (3) Texas A&M 2
George P. Mitchell Tennis Center – College Station, Texas
Doubles – Order of Finish: 2, 3, 1
1 #55 Lina Padegimaite/Noel Scott (UT) def. #38 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar/Wen Sun (A&M) – 8-4
2 Krista Damico/Cierra Gaytan-Leach (UT) def. Janelle Cuthbertson/Nazari Urbina (A&M) – 8-3
3 Sheri Olivier/Lauren Santacroce (A&M) def. Elizabeth Begley/Aeriel Ellis (UT) – 8-6

Singles – Order of Finish: 6, 4, 1, 3, 5
1 #8 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (A&M) def. #38 Aeriel Ellis (UT) – 6-0, 6-1
2 #67 Krista Damico (UT) vs. #61 Nazari Urbina (A&M) – 6-4, 4-5, susp.
3 #81 Wen Sun (A&M) def. Noel Scott (UT) – 6-1, 6-0
4 Lina Padegimaite (UT) def. Lauren Santacroce (A&M) – 6-0, 6-2
5 Cierra Gaytan-Leach (UT) def. Janelle Cuthbertson (A&M) – 3-6, 6-4, 6-2
6 Elizabeth Begley (UT) def. Sheri Olivier (A&M) – 6-0, 6-1

ITA Team Rankings: #13 Texas, #19 Texas A&M

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