Longhorns win a tightly-contested doubles point and add three singles wins to secure their third NCAA round-of-16 appearance in the last five seasons.
AUSTIN – Eleventh-seeded Texas (19-7) took the doubles point and added singles wins from Aeriel Ellis, Lina Padegimaite (pah-day-gee-MY-tay) and Cierra Gaytan-Leach to score a 4-2 win over No. 17 Nebraska (24-4) Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Championship.
The Longhorns punch their ticket to the NCAA Championship’s round of 16 in Athens, Ga., for the third time in the last five seasons (2008, 2010, 2012). Texas most recently reached the round of 16 in 2010, when the round of 16 and beyond also were held in Athens. Texas will meet the winner of Saturday’s Georgia-Clemson match on Thursday, May 17 in the round of 16 at Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Nebraska opened the match by claiming the match at first doubles. The Huskers’ Madeleine Geibert and Stefanie Weinstein teamed up to produce an 8-5 win over UT’s Padegimaite and Noel Scott. Texas, however, responded with wins at the second and third positions to nail down the doubles point.
UT’s Krista Damico and Gaytan-Leach held an 8-7 lead on NU’s Patricia Veresova and Mary Weatherholt at second doubles, but the Huskers broke the Horns in the next game to force a tiebreaker. Damico and Gaytan-Leach took control early on in the tiebreaker and posted a 7-2 win to take the match.
At third doubles, NU’s Izabella Zgierska and Janine Weinreich broke for a 7-6 lead, but UT’s Elizabeth Begley and Ellis saved two match points on Nebraska’s serve before breaking the Huskers to even the match at seven games-all. Ellis held serve in the next game, and Texas broke Nebraska at-love in the following game to win the match, 9-7 and claim the doubles point.
Ellis maintained her momentum in singles play and staked Texas to a 2-0 lead behind a convincing win at first singles. The All-American took the first set off of Nebraska’s Weatherholt, 6-2, and after being broken in the first game of set two, Ellis promptly took the next six games to win the set, 6-1.
Nebraska sliced the Texas lead to 2-1 behind a 6-3, 6-4 win from Veresova over UT’s Damico at second singles. The Cornhuskers’ Weinstein evened the match at two apiece with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Scott at fourth singles.
Texas’ Padegimaite gave the Horns the lead for good at third singles, where she registered her fifteenth consecutive win, a 6-3, 6-2 triumph over Nebraska’s Geibert. UT’s Gaytan-Leach dropped the first set against NU’s Weinreich at fifth singles before rallying for a 6-3 second-set win.
Gaytan-Leach opened the third set by breaking Weinreich’s serve, but Weinreich broke and held serve for a 2-1 lead. Gaytan-Leach returned the favor, holding serve and breaking Weinreich for a 3-2 lead. Gaytan-Leach later held serve for a 5-3 lead, and with match point against her, Weinreich double-faulted her serve to give the third-set win to Gaytan-Leach, 6-3.
The remaining match at sixth singles, with UT’s Begley and Nebraska’s Zgierska locked at two-all in the third set, was suspended given that Texas had clinched the victory.
NCAA Championship – Second Round (Round of 32)
No. 11 Texas 4, No. 17 Nebraska 2
Penick-Allison Tennis Center – Austin, Texas
Doubles – Order of Finish: 1, 2, 3
1 Madeleine Geibert/Stefanie Weinstein (NU) def. Lina Padegimaite/Noel Scott (Texas) – 8-5
2 Krista Damico/Cierra Gaytan-Leach (Texas) def. Patricia Veresova/Mary Weatherholt (NU) – 9-8 (2)
3 Elizabeth Begley/Aeriel Ellis (Texas) def. Izabella Zgierska/Janine Weinreich (Nebraska) – 9-7
Singles – Order of Finish: 1, 2, 4, 3, 5
1 #40 Aeriel Ellis (Texas) def. #47 Mary Weatherholt (Nebraska) – 6-2, 6-1
2 #100 Patricia Veresova (Nebraska) def. #68 Krista Damico (Texas) – 6-3, 6-4
3 Lina Padegimaite (Texas) def. Madeleine Geibert (Nebraska) – 6-3, 6-2
4 Stefanie Weinstein (Nebraska) def. Noel Scott (Texas) – 6-2, 6-3
5 Cierra Gaytan-Leach (Texas) def. #109 Janine Weinreich (Nebraska) – 4-6, 6-3, 6-3
6 Elizabeth Begley (Texas) vs. Izabella Zgierska (Nebraska) – 6-1, 5-7, 2-2, susp.
Texas sophomore Cierra Gaytan-Leach
On the lengthy match: It’s a lot to manage. Even when you mess up, you have to stay positive. Long matches with doubles can be tough. You really have to stay together as a team.
On whether she knew that winning her match would clinch the Longhorn victory: No, I actually thought we had to win my match and Elizabeth Begley’s match. So, I had no idea. I was just trying to fight and win every point.
On how it feels when the crowd is surrounding her court: I love the crowd. So when they kept cheering me on, I worked off them. As they got louder, I got more motivated. It really helped.
On Texas winning on its home courts in Austin: It’s awesome. All of our parents are here, and our friends, too. It’s really great to do it in front of our family and friends.
Texas junior Aeriel Ellis
On her doubles victory: It was a grind. But we were able to pull it together when it mattered. We missed a couple in the beginning of the match that we probably shouldn’t have missed, especially during important points. But we found a way in the last couple of games. I think when we were down 7-6 and found a way to win three games in a row just by going after our shots. That’s what makes us a good team.
On the lengthy doubles match: It’s never fun, but at the same time to come out on top it gives us a boost. Especially going into singles, it’s like we’ve got something done, so now let’s do it again.
On her dominant singles victory: Everything was going right. I wasn’t making a lot of unforced errors. I was anticipating her ball really well and hitting great shots. I really couldn’t complain about the way I played today.
On feeding off the crowd’s energy: The crowd was amazing. I think they were constantly cheering for me and my teammates around me. I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have them there. I’m really happy they were there.
Texas head coach Patty Fendick-McCain
On the doubles matches: We really aim to please around here and try to make it exciting for the fans. But it was a hard-fought match. We let things slip away a little bit in those doubles matches, so we did get a little bit of drama towards the end there. I just felt our players were the better team out there and ultimately they pulled it together. They did well.
On the energy of the crowd and playing at home: I think anytime you have your family, your friends, and you fans out there, it’s great. It gives you so much more energy. It’s been a long season. It’s been a hard-fought season. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs. To be honest, I thought we were a little bit flat out there today. They were tired and you could see it. But, having the fans out there yelling and screaming for them and really giving them that support, I think that’s really what perked them right back up.
On how a match as long as this one affects the players: It takes its toll. An hour-and-a-half long doubles session is as long as you’re going to ever see. And just physically, it was hot out here today. I thought that worked in our favor a little bit. I think the Nebraska girls felt the heat a little bit more than we did since we’re used to it. It does take its toll, but we’re prepared for that. We’ve been battling all year long and doing great. I’m super proud of the girls, they’ve done a great job.
On Aeriel Ellis’ performance: Oh, that was the best I have seen her play since November. She was just ‘en fuego’. She’s been really close to turning it over. Everything she touched was gold today. It was just great.
On Cierra Gaytan-Leach clinching another big win for Texas: The ‘big cheese’! The ‘big cheese’ is getting it done time-and-time again. She’s doing a really good job. She’s worked really hard, and it’s great to see her coming through. She’s got a lot of energy and passion out there on the court. She just kind of sweeps everybody up with her. It’s great.
On the team fighting for the win: It’s a team effort. There’s a point on the line at every spot. And the girls know that going into it. If one player maybe doesn’t have their best day, you’ve got other personnel out there who are ready to pick up the slack.
On the opening rounds of NCAA Championships: It was really fun. It was exciting. It was great to finally host. This was the first time we’ve gotten to host since I have been the coach. It’s great to be on your home courts.