NCAA Women's Tennis: Stanford and Cal advance to semis

StanfordPhoto.com, CalBears.com

Stanford edged out Michigan 4-3 and Cal defeated Pepperdine 4-2 as both Bay Area schools punched tickets to the NCAA Women's Tennis Championships semifinals with quarterfinal victories Saturday in Tulsa, Okla. The Cardinal and Golden Bears will next hit the court Monday on opposite sides of the bracket, as Stanford will square off against Vanderbilt and Cal will face Oklahoma State for the right to play for a team title.

Stanford

Caroline Doyle's Saturday didn't get off to a good start. You could say she cost the Cardinal the doubles point after double-faulting on all four of her serves in the deciding game. But when it mattered most, the junior from San Francisco stepped up in a huge way, delivering the quarterfinal-clinching point in a third-set tiebreaker to propel 15th-seeded Stanford past 10th-seeded Michigan in a third straight 4-3 result in the NCAA tournament. Stanford, winners of 12 of its last 14 matches as the lower-seeded team, moves on to face Vanderbilt in the semifinals on Monday.

Michigan took a hotly-contested doubles point with Brienne Minor and Mira Ruder-Hook outlasting Caroline Doyle and Taylor Davidson 7-5 on court one after the Card and Wolverines split the other two courts. Doyle/Davidson held a 5-2 lead but double-faulted their last six points on service, with Doyle having trouble finding her serve as the Cardinal trailed 6-5.

No worries, though -- Stanford had lost the doubles point in four of its last five matches and still won. Melissa Lord got Nerd Nation off to a quick start in singles with a 6-1, 6-0 pasting of Teona Velehorschi on court six. Things were looking good elsewhere, as Lord's teammates had claimed the first set on four of the other five singles courts. So when Carol Zhao lost in two sets on court one to ITA Midwest Region Player of the Year Ronit Yurovsky, there was no reason to panic for Lele Forood's group. Krista Hardebeck was next to strike for the Cardinal, as Alex Najarian's forehand went wide on match point to give the Cardinal senior a 6-0, 7-5 victory on No. 4.

With a 2-2 tally, this was heading down to three-setters on the remaining three courts. Caroline Lampl raced away from Ruder-Hook on court five with a 6-1 triumph in the third to put Stanford up 3-2, but Minor answered back for the Wolverines on No. 2 with a 6-2 third-set result over Davidson, Stanford's clincher on Thursday.

That brought it down to court three, where Doyle had blown a 3-0 third-set lead and trailed 4-3, 5-4 and 6-5 against Kate Fahey, who is ranked one spot below the Cardinal junior nationally. Doyle fought back each time, not without her jitters. Perhaps thinking about her previous serving miscues, Doyle had several re-tosses on her serve and allowed Fahey to crawl back from 40-15 down to match point at 6-5 in the third set but found a way to send it to a tiebreaker. Doyle raced out of the gates to a 5-0 lead in the tiebreaker before her serving issues struck again, double-faulting before switching sides. She then erred on a couple of forehands to allow Fahey to creep within 5-3. Finally, at 6-4, Doyle persevered on a long rally to close out the Michigan frosh after Fahey hit one into the net.

This was Michigan's first-ever trip to the NCAA quarterfinals. With Saturday's win, Stanford has now advanced to its 30th NCAA semifinal.

California

Like their Bay Area rivals, the Golden Bears trailed heading into singles play. And, like their peninsula counterparts, the Golden Bears were able to shake off a rusty start, as top-seeded Cal defeated No. 8 Pepperdine 4-2 to advance to the NCAA semifinals for the first time since 2009. 

Cal had the early edge in doubles play after a quick 6-2 triumph from Lynn Chi and Maria Smith at No. 3 doubles, but the Waves controlled the other two doubles courts, officially taking a 1-0 lead on Cal with Matea Cutura/Christine Maddox taking down Klara Fabikova/Olivia Hauger on court two.

Cal didn't trail for long once singles play got started, however, as second team All-Pac-12 junior Denise Starr hammered Apichaya Runglerdkriangkrai 6-0, 6-3 on court four while teammate Karla Popovic dismantled Michaela Capannolo 6-0, 6-1 at No. 6 singles to give Cal a 2-1 edge.

Pepperdine was providing plenty of more resistance on the remaining four courts, however, as sixth-ranked Luisa Stefani defeated seventh-ranked Megan Manasse 6-2, 7-6 at No. 1 to draw Pepperdine level with Cal at 2-2 in a battle of conference players of the year. The four-time WCC champs also had pushed two of the other courts to a third set while having a chance to close out No. 2 singles in straight sets. That battle at No. 2 was between Pepperdine's Laura Gulbe and Cal's Fabikova, who fought back to win a second set tiebreaker and force a decisive third.

So the more pressing matters shifted over to courts three and five. Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year Olivia Hauger struck next over at No. 5 singles, besting Cutura 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to put Cal one triumph away from the semis. Lynn Chi answered the bell at No. 3 with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Dzina Milovanovic, giving Cal a Monday date with No. 12 Oklahoma State in the semis

Snapping a 15-match win streak, Pepperdine played Cal much tougher this time around than it did in March, when the Golden Bears posted a 7-0 win over the Waves. This was the first time since 1994 that Pepperdine reached the NCAA quarterfinals.

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