LOS ANGELES – The Texas A&M women’s tennis team pulled out another marathon match, defeating No. 60 Saint Mary’s College of California, 4-3, in the opening match of the ITA Kick-off Classic today at Marks Tennis Stadium on the University of Southern California campus.
The No. 29 Aggies improve to 2-0 after playing their second straight match to last more than four and a half hours and come down to the last match standing. A&M will face the winner between No. 10 USC and Michigan State in the second round Sunday at 3 p.m. (CST). The second-round winner will join the winners from 14 other sites at the prestigious 16-team ITA National Team Indoor Championships, Feb. 12-15 in Madison, Wis.
“The last two matches we have played, we could have very easily lost,” A&M coach Bobby Kleinecke said. “So I’m very proud of the heart and the desire that they have shown, and their ability to come from behind.
“I don’t think we played the type of match that we are capable of playing by any means. We let too many opportunities slip where we should have had the doubles point. Even in the singles, we had some opportunities at times where we would be up an add point and miss an easy ball.”
Christi Liles (Largo, Fla.) came through when the team needed her most, registering a come-from-behind victory at No. 5 singles to clinch the winning point for the Aggies and spoil the Gaels’ season opener. Liles dropped the first-set tiebreaker, 7-5, against Nienke Strijbis and trailed 4-1 in the second set before rallying and forcing a tiebreaker. Liles won the second-set tiebreaker, 7-2, but fell behind 4-2 in the final set before reeling off four straight games to clinch the match and keep A&M undefeated.
The Aggies were playing with their back against the wall for most of the match after dropping a closely contested doubles point. Liles and Janelle Cuthbertson (Perth, Australia) had jumped out to a 4-1 lead against 38th-ranked Alex Poorta and Claire Soper at the No. 1 line, but the Gaels duo came back to win the match, 9-7.
The Aggie tandem of Stephanie Davidson (Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas) and Morgan Frank (Oldsmar, Fla.) then fell to Anna Chikhikvishvili and Strijbis at the No. 2 line by the identical score to give Saint Mary’s a 1-0 lead.
Sheri Olivier (Topeka, Kan.) and Elzé Potgieter (Bloemfontein, South Africa) were tied 4-4 in a tiebreaker against Molly Aloia and Marah Calvo at the No. 3 line when play was halted.
“The majority of these girls aren’t used to losing the doubles point,” Kleinecke said. “We know we can [lose the doubles point] and still come away with the match. We’ve done that before, but the one thing that they have been really good at is that they believe that they can do it. They’ve got the fight. They’ve got the determination and the want, and that is a lot of it. The heart is out there in these types of matches.”
The Aggies quickly took a 2-1 lead at the start of singles as Frank and Davidson picked up straight-set wins. Davidson polished off Calvo, 6-1, 6-1, at No. 6 singles, and Frank notched a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Chikhikvishvili at No. 2.
The lead would not last long as Sabina Gunnarsson tied the score at 3-all after downing Cuthbertson, 6-1, 7-5, at the No. 4 line. Soper then regained the lead for Saint Mary’s, holding off Lauren Santacroce (Spring, Texas), 6-7 (9), 6-2, 6-4.
Potgieter got a ranked win, defeating 25th-ranked Poorta, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3) at the No. 1 line to tie the match at 3-all, sending all eyes to Court 5, where Liles secured the win for the Aggies.
“The keys to the match today were Morgan coming away with the straight-set win and taking care of it early; Stephanie coming away with the straight-set win, taking care of it early; Christi winning the second set after being down 4-1 and Elzé coming away with that first set tiebreaker. Those were very, very big in this match,” Kleinecke said.
“That is a big plus, having confidence to come back. We kind of escaped a bullet today. I’m very proud of the effort.”
A&M, which was playing Saint Mary’s for the first time in the history of the program, has never faced Michigan State. The Aggies are 1-1 all-time against USC after defeating the then-No. 5 Trojans, 4-1, at the 2004 ITA National Team Indoor Championships, marking the biggest win in school history.
“Tomorrow’s match we definitely have to play better,” Kleinecke said when asked about the possibility of facing No. 10 USC for the chance to advance to the national indoor tournament. “I think it will have a completely different feel to the match. We are going to be more able to step up and go for our shots a little easier tomorrow. They are the ones who are supposed to beat us and come up with the win. There should be no fear on our part.”
(29) TEXAS A&M 4, (60) Saint Mary’s 3
January 31, 2009
Marks Tennis Stadium
Los Angeles, Calif.
1. Elzé Potgieter (TAMU) def. (25) Alex Poorta (SMC), 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3)
2. Morgan Frank (TAMU) def. Anna Chikhikvishvili (SMC), 6-2, 6-1
3. Claire Soper (SMC) def. Lauren Santacroce (TAMU), 6-7 (9), 6-2, 6-4
4. Sabina Gunnarsson (SMC) def. Janelle Cuthbertson (TAMU), 6-1, 7-5
5. Christi Liles (TAMU) def. Nienke Strijbis (SMC), 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 6-4
6. Stephanie Davidson (TAMU) def. Marah Calvo (SMC), 6-1, 6-1
Doubles (SMC wins the point)
1. (38) Poorta/Soper (SMC) def. Cuthbertson/Liles (TAMU), 9-7
2. Chikhikvishvili/Strijbis (SMC) def. Davidson/Frank (TAMU), 9-7
3. Sheri Olivier/Potgieter (TAMU) vs. Molly Aloia/Calvo (SMC), DNF
Order of finish
Doubles: 1, 2
Singles: 6, 2, 4, 3, 1, 5*
Texas A&M: 2-0
Saint Mary’s: 0-1
2009 NCAA Tennis Championships: Texas A&M will host the 2009 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships, May 14-25, at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center in College Station, Texas. Tickets can be purchased online at 12ManFoundation.com or by calling 1-888-99-AGGIE.