Aggies Outlast Rice, 4-3

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HOUSTON -- Texas A&M’s Elze Potgieter (pronounced el-ZAY pot-geet-er), who missed opening day last weekend while representing South Africa in the Fed Cup, returned to the top of the lineup and helped the 27th-ranked Aggies clinch a 4-3 victory against No. 74 Rice today at the Jake Hess Tennis Center.

“Thank goodness Elze made it back,” A&M coach Bobby Kleinecke said. “That was a big boost for our lineup. We knew this was going to be a tough, hard-fought match, and I am so proud of Elze for coming in with that win under tough situations. She just got in a day ago and then came up with a big win. She had it in her mind she wanted to play. She was ready and did a great job.”

The Aggies (3-0) began the match by winning two of three doubles matches to take the early lead. The freshman duo of Stephanie Davidson (Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas) and Morgan Frank (Oldsmar, Fla.) raced to an 8-2 victory over Emily Braid and Varsha Shiva-Shanka at the No. 3 line.

Anna Blagodarova (Toronto, Ontario) and Michelle Sammons (Durban, South Africa) then clinched the crucial point, coming back from a 4-1 deficit to defeat Tiffany Lee and Rebecca Lin, 8-5, at No. 2.

“A key to the doubles was No. 2 doubles,” Kleinecke said. “We were down 4-1 and not playing smart and then made one adjustment and won seven of the next eight games. We’ve just got to be a little smarter and be able to make those adjustments earlier without the coaches having to come out there and make them do it. That is something we are going to be dealing with a young team. We have a lot to learn. That is part of the game.”

Julie Chao and Dominique Karas prevented the sweep, handing Tiffany Clifford (Little Rock, Ark.) and Christi Liles (Largo, Fla.) an 8-6 loss at No. 1.

The Aggies raced to two quick points in singles to jump out to a 3-0 lead. After holding both of her opponents scoreless on Saturday, Frank dropped her first game of today’s match to Christine Dao at the No. 5 line. Frank then won the next six games to take the set. Frank was leading 2-1 in the second set when Dao retired because of shoulder pain.

Meanwhile Marisa Druss (Austin, Texas) trailed Braid, 4-2, in the first set at No. 6 and then didn’t lose a game for the remainder of the match to quickly put the Aggies up 3-0.

Rice got it first point of the contest at No. 3 singles as Karas broke away from 4-4 ties in each set to defeat Liles, 6-4, 6-4.

Potgieter then posted the winning point for the Aggies. Potgieter had trailed Chao 5-4 in the first set before reeling off three straight games to take the set. Potgieter then jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second set before Chao won her only game of the second set.

Rice captured the final two points of the match. At No. 2, Lee held off Blagodarova, 7-5, in the first set, but Blagodarova came back to win the second set, 6-1, and forced a super tiebreaker. Lee trailed 7-5 but rallied to take a 9-8 lead. Blagodarova knotted the score at 9-all before Lee scored two straight points for the win.

In a match that lasted just over three and a half hours, Lin won two tiebreakers at the No. 4 spot to defeat Sammons in straight sets, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3).

“Looking back at the way the match progressed, obviously the doubles point was big for us and will be in every match we play,” Kleinecke said. “We don’t have the type of talent to just walk out on the court and dominate people in singles. We better be ready to fight at every position.

“We missed too many balls at Nos. 2, 3 and 4. Nos. 5 and 6 did what I thought, but that is our strength. We had three people sitting out who could have stepped in and done the same thing. That is a tribute to our depth. The only problem is that our depth doesn’t get us any points. So we need to cut down on our errors at Nos. 2, 3 and 4.

“Elze is going to run into some tough people. I expect her to compete in every match, but she won’t necessarily win every match so we need to get some wins at some other places.”

The Aggies return to the road Saturday as they face the 34th-ranked LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge, La. First serve is slated for noon at W.T. “Dub” Robinson Stadium.

“They are ranked in the 30s, and I think they are better than that,” Kleinecke said. “It is going to be a very tough match. I know that we have beaten them the last three years, so they are going to be after us. We also are going to be after them. It is going to be a great, fun college match.”

No. 27 Texas A&M 4, No. 74 Rice 3

Singles

1. Elze Potgieter (A&M) def. Julie Chao (Rice), 7-5, 6-1

2. Tiffany Lee (Rice) def. Anna Blagodarova (A&M), 7-5, 1-6, 1-0 (9)

3. Dominque Karas (Rice) def. Christi Liles (A&M), 6-4, 6-4

4. Rebecca Lin (Rice) def. Michelle Sammons (A&M), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3)

5. Morgan Frank (A&M) def. Christine Dao (Rice), 5-1, 2-1 retired

6. Marisa Druss (A&M) def. Emily Braid (Rice), 6-4, 6-0

Doubles (A&M wins the point)

1. Chao/Karas (Rice) def. Tiffany Clifford/Liles (A&M), 8-6

2. Blagodarova/Sammons (A&M) def. Lee/Lin (Rice), 8-5

3. Stephanie Davidson/Frank (A&M) def. Braid/Varsha Shiva-Shanka, 8-2

Order of finish (D3, D2, D1, S5, S6, S3, S1*, S2, S4)
*Clinched match

Jake Hess Tennis Stadium (Attendance: n/a)

Team records: Texas A&M (3-0); Rice (4-2)