ATHENS — Full of fight and playing into the teeth of a pro-Georgia crowd, the Duke women’s tennis team earned an indelible prize.
Playing from behind, the Blue Devils took out the Bulldogs 4-2 in the NCAA quarterfinals Saturday afternoon, ending Georgia’s season three wins shy of its intended destination.
“It’s like a rite of passage to win an NCAA match against Georgia here,” Duke coach Jamie Ashworth said.
The third-seeded Blue Devils lost the doubles point to the No. 6-seed Bulldogs, but overcame it with four singles points, three of them in three sets. At No. 4 singles, Duke’s Rachel Kahan fought off a match point and a gimpy shoulder and then won the deciding match in a third-set tiebreaker over Georgia’s Lauren Herring, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (5).
“It’s devastating not being able to win as a team here,” said Georgia senior Chelsey Gullickson, wiping away tears. “We came out playing great on Thursday and played great [Saturday], but Duke just played amazing. There was nothing we could do.”
Duke (29-2) reached the semifinals for the second time since 2003 by winning its 18th consecutive match. The Blue Devils play five freshmen or sophomores in their singles lineup, including freshman Beatrice Capra and Ester Goldfield at Nos. 1 and 2 singles. Despite their youth, they swashbuckled in front of the red and black-clad fans at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
“We expected it to be loud and crazy, but you don’t really know until you step out on the court what it’s going to be like,” Kahan said.
The tournament continues Sunday with the men’s quarterfinals. No. 2-seed Georgia, in search of its seventh national title, plays No. 7-seed Pepperdine at 4 p.m. Other matches are USC-Duke, Ohio State-UCLA and Virginia-Stanford.
The men and women will play their semifinal matches Monday, with the championship Tuesday. in the women's semifinals, Duke will play Florida, and UCLA will face USC.
The other winners Saturday were top-seeded UCLA (4-1 over No. 9-seed California), No. 5-seed USC (4-2 over No. 4 Stanford) and No. 2-seed and defending champion Florida (4-0 over No. 10 Miami).
“We were ready to play [Saturday], and we came to this tournament as prepared as we could be,” Florida’s Alex Cercone said. “It’s more exciting that we’re getting through than [it is] relief.”
The Gators made their 22nd NCAA semifinal and are two matches from their sixth NCAA championship. Only Stanford, with 16, has won more titles than Florida.
The USC-Stanford match was decided at No. 3 singles on a third-set tiebreaker that went 7-5 in the Trojans’ favor.
“It was kind of an amazing match,” Stanford coach Lele Forood said. “I don’t think anybody knew the outcome until it ended.”
In the Duke-Georgia match, the Bulldogs (24-5) earned the doubles point, needing a win from the sophomore team of Lilly Kimbell and Maho Kowase at No. 3 doubles in the deciding match. It was the 22nd consecutive victory for Kimbell and Kowase, a school record.
That commenced a long afternoon of singles in which the Nos. 1 and 2 singles were won in two sets by Georgia’s Gullickson at No. 1 and Duke’s Goldfeld at No. 2, respectively. Gullickson, the 2010 NCAA singles champion, broke Beatrice Capra’s 16-match winning streak in winning 6-3, 6-2.
The two matches made the score 2-1 in Georgia’s favor and left the outcome in the hands of the remaining four matches, at 3, 4, 5 and 6, all of which went to three sets.
Duke’s Monica Turewicz claimed the next point at No. 6 singles, outlasting Kimbrell 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, followed by Hanna Mar at No. 3 singles over Kowase 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. That made the score 3-2 in Duke’s favor, and both players and fans shifted over to court No. 4 to watch Kahan and Herring slug it out.
Herring, a freshman, put a forehand into the net to end the tiebreaker and the match.
“She’ll learn from this, and she’ll stay aggressive all the way through in the future,” Georgia coach Jeff Wallace said. “I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
A week after a pair of unimpressive losses, Georgia Tech regained a bit of its footing. The Yellow Jackets delivered an emphatic 87-57 thrashing of East Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion to head into their final exam week on an up note.