ANN ARBOR, Mich. – No. 19 Texas A&M battled No. 15 seed Michigan to the last match standing but came up short in a 4-3 season-ending loss in the second round of the NCAA Championship today at the Varsity Tennis Center.
A&M, making its first second round appearance since 2008, finishes the season a better-than-expected 19-6 under first-year head coach Howard Joffe.
“In interviews throughout the season I’ve talked many times about the range of possibility, and I don’t think that anyone who is not very close to the program, at the practices, at the courts or who doesn’t intimately know the players on our team will have any idea or appreciation for how overachieving a group we were this year,” Joffe said. “That is something I am very proud about. (Assistant coach) Mark Weaver has done an outstanding job, and our girls, truly in the five years of being a head coach, I have not had a team that has been so disciplined and worked so hard and done everything that has been asked of them.”
The Aggies came close to reaching the next round by winning the doubles point, despite Michigan taking an early edge to open the match. The Wolverines’ Mimi Nguyen and Michelle Sulahian topped Janelle Cuthbertson and Nazari Urbina at the No. 2 line, but A&M would win the last two matches to clinch the point.
No. 29th-ranked Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar and Wen Sun pulled off their highest ranked win of the season by defeating 11th-ranked Emina Bektas and Brooke Bolender at the No. 1 line. The Michigan tandem twice got up a service break, but A&M broke back each time and the teams were on serve at 7-7. Then with Sun poaching at the net and using every bit of her 6-foot frame to reach balls and put them down for points, the Aggies broke to take their first lead at 8-7. The A&M pair then held serve as Michigan hit out for the match-winning point.
A&M’s senior duo of Sheri Olivier and Lauren Santacroce then secured the doubles point to give A&M a 1-0 lead. The Aggies never trailed in the match and won three of the last four games to defeat Kristy Dodge and Sarah Lee, 8-4, at No. 3.
“If you look at the results and how we have managed to get the wins this season to get us ranked in the Top 20, yes Cristina, Sun and Nazari have won a lot of matches, but without Lauren and Sheri’s contributions, primarily in the doubles, again today they didn’t flinch,” Joffe said. “They won in the NCAA tournament in the doubles. At the beginning of the year, I wouldn’t have given them a chance to be a pair that could actually win in the NCAA tournament, so they absolutely have far exceeded what I thought they could and are the reason why we were able to get ranked as high as we have this year. It was a great, great effort by both of them.”
Michigan quickly tied the score at the start of singles as Sulahian won 6-1, 6-3 at No. 6 against Janine Erasmus, who was playing in only her 15th match of the season. The Wolverines then took the lead as Lee defeated a banged up Cuthbertson, 6-2, 6-1 at the No. 4 line.
Sixth-ranked Sanchez-Quintanar tied the score at 2-2 and equaled her highest ranked win of the season after holding off 12th-ranked Bektas, 6-4, 7-5, at the top of the lineup. With the win, Sanchez-Quintanar finishes the dual season 24-1 and improves to 36-5 overall to move into sole possession of second place in the A&M season records.
Santacroce came back from a three-game deficit to tie her first set at 5-5 against Dodge at the No. 5 line before Dodge pulled away for a 7-5, 6-1 victory to put the Wolverines up 3-2.
“There is no question that in all of the spots all year, I don’t think I can point to one match where we have been sort of soft either physically or mentally,” Joffe said. “Today I know Lauren battled really, really hard and got it to 5-all in the first set. Janelle’s body didn’t allow her to contest the match as well as she would have liked, but did she let go of the rope, absolutely not. And Janine, which was a bit of the roll of the dice, she hasn’t had very many matches. She is healthy now and so we played her, but unfortunately she didn’t have a ton of matches going in. But even her, she got it in the second set to where it was starting to look fairly promising, so I have to give them all credit.”
Sun held off Nguyen, 6-4, 6-4 at No. 3 to tie the score for the third time and force the decision to come down to the No. 2 line. Urbina had won the first set against Bolender, 6-2, before Bolender got hot in the second set and pulled away for a 6-4 win to force a third set. Bolender then won the first four games of the final set en route to a 6-2 victory to punch the Wolverines’ ticket to the round of 16 for the third consecutive year.
It marked only the second time in 21 matches that A&M lost a match after winning the doubles point.
Although disappointed with the loss, Joffe was proud of the team, which had one of most successful seasons in recent history.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with our kids at the surface level of just today’s match as well as in terms of the whole season,” Joffe said. “I thought the doubles was going to be a critical item. If we were able to win the doubles, I felt like we had a chance of winning the match. Our girls acquitted themselves great in the doubles. It was a brutally, tough competitive doubles point which we won, and then all of the singles matches were very, very tough, and our recipe for knocking off the upper echelon teams this season has been win the doubles and then beat them at 1, 2 and 3. That is a tough way to go when you play a team like this who at No. 1 and 2 has some of the finest players in the country. We came very close to doing that, but the young lady who played Nazari got real hot and started to play extremely well, and you have to give her some credit. She definitely won the match.
“Overall about the season is that I am super thankful to Texas A&M for giving me the opportunity to come work here. It’s been of the five years of being a head coach by a country mile my best experience. The support for our kids and for the coaches is unmatched from anything I’ve ever seen. And for the folks who are supporters of our team, I know that the kids didn’t shortchange them on effort. We got some good results this year, and I look for us to get exponentially better each year as we go forward.”
Although the team’s season has ended, Sanchez-Quintanar and Urbina will compete in the NCAA Singles Championship, and Sanchez-Quintanar also will team with Sun at the NCAA Doubles Championship.
The NCAA singles and doubles competition will be conducted May 23-28 at the University of Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
No. 15 Michigan 4, No. 19 Texas A&M 3
NCAA Championship – Second Round
May 12, 2011
Varsity Tennis Center
Ann Arbor, Mich.
1. (#6) Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (TAMU) def. (#12) Emina Bektas (U-M), 6-4, 7-5
2. (#93) Brooke Bolender (U-M) def. (#53) Nazari Urbina (TAMU), 2-6, 6-4, 6-2
3. (#78) Wen Sun (TAMU) def. Mimi Nguyen (U-M), 6-4, 6-4
4. Sarah Lee (U-M) def. Janelle Cuthbertson (TAMU), 6-2, 6-1
5. Kristy Dodge (U-M) def. Lauren Santacroce (TAMU), 7-5, 6-1
6. Michelle Sulahian (U-M) def. Janine Erasmus (TAMU), 6-1, 6-3
Doubles (A&M wins the point)
1. (#29) Sanchez-Quintanar/Sun (TAMU) def. (#11) Bektas/Bolender (U-M), 9-7
2. Nguyen/Sulahian (U-M) def. Cuthbertson/Urbina (TAMU), 8-2
3. Olivier/Santacroce (TAMU) vs. Dodge/Lee (U-M), 8-4
Order of finish
Doubles: 2, 1, 3
Singles: 6, 4, 1, 5, 3, 2*
*- Clinched match
Texas A&M: 19-6