The Texas A&M women’s tennis team won its ninth straight match to tie the program’s all-time record for consecutive victories as the 15th-ranked Aggies defeated William and Mary, 7-0, in front of 319 on a very blustery evening at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center.
The Aggies, who jumped eight spots to No. 15 in the Campbell’s/Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings released today and entered the match against the Tribe with their highest national ranking since a No. 14 listing on March 24, 2007, improve to 9-1 under first-year head coach Howard Joffe. A&M will attempt to break the record held by the 1986 squad on Friday when the Aggies play host to 16th-ranked Michigan at 6 p.m. at the Mitchell Tennis Center.
“I was delighted with our kids because William and Mary is a team that on paper is very strong, and they have a number of kids in their lineup who played against us today who have played on top 10 teams in the nation,” Joffe said. “Nazari Urbina played (Maria Belaya), who played on Clemson’s team last year. Lauren Santacroce played (Kayla Rizzolo), who played pretty high in the lineup on a top-10 University of Miami team, so we knew going into the match that we would have our work cut out for us.”
A&M’s senior duo of Sheri Olivier and Santacroce improved to 8-1 at the No. 3 line and gave the Aggies the early edge in the race for the doubles point, winning five consecutive games to break away from a 3-3 tie and defeat Katie Kargl and Nina Vulovich, 8-3.
Ranked 35th in the nation, the Tribe tandem of Belaya and Jeltje Loomans prevented A&M from getting its third consecutive doubles sweep after holding off Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar and Wen Sun, 8-5 at the No. 1 court, but the Aggies still managed to win the overall point for the ninth match in a row as Janelle Cuthbertson and Urbina finished off Anik Cepeda and Hope Johnson, 8-3, at the No. 2 line to give the Aggies a 1-0 lead. It was the seventh consecutive win for the Aggie pair.
“In the doubles, the kids acquitted themselves very well,” Joffe said, “and I truly, truly can’t say enough about our kids’ effort in fighting in the matches. But also I think that we are actually a team that is starting to play very well.”
A&M won all six singles matches in straight sets to complete its second shutout of the season. For the Tribe (3-8), it was only their only shutout since falling to No. 3 Duke, 7-0, in the season opener.
Sun, ranked No. 86, was first off the court in singles and gave A&M a 2-0 lead after tagging Hope Johnson with a 6-3, 6-2 loss at the No. 3 line.
Fourth-ranked Sanchez-Quintanar remained undefeated and improved to 10-0 in dual matches with a 6-3, 6-3 victory against Loomans at the No. 2 line to put the Aggies ahead, 3-0. Urbina, ranked No. 114, then clinched the win for A&M and won her sixth consecutive match after knocking off Belaya, 6-2, 6-4 at the No. 1 court.
Cuthbertson put A&M up, 5-0, racing to a 6-0 first set victory against Cepeda and then holding off the A&M Consolidated High School product and College Station resident, 7-5, in the second set.
Santacroce and Olivier were caught up in seesaw battles at the No. 4 and 6 lines, respectively, but both managed to come out on top. Olivier jumped out to a 5-0 first-set lead against Kargl, before Kargl rallied and forced a tiebreaker. Olivier easily won the tiebreaker, 7-1, and then won the first four games of the second set en route to a 7-6 (1), 6-2 victory that put the Aggies up, 6-0.
Santacroce secured the shutout, fighting back to defeat Rizzolo in straight sets. Santacroce had taken a 5-2 first-set lead, but like Olivier, ended up going to a tiebreaker. Santacroce won her tiebreaker by the identical 7-1 score, but she would also have to play a tiebreaker to determine the second-set winner. Rizzolo jumped out to a 3-0 lead and was ahead 5-2 in the second set when Santacroce made her comeback and tied the set at 5-5 and again at 6-6. Rizzolo won the first two points of the tiebreaker, but Santacroce would later tie the score at 3-3. With the score tied at 4-4, Santacroce scored three unanswered points to close out the match.
Joffe was impressed how his team handled the windy conditions.
“I hit a few balls earlier today, and the wind is unsettling and it is difficult,” he said. “It is just another obstacle where the kids have to apply themselves, and that is what I’m so pleased about. Whatever comes up, they are applying themselves and embracing it versus shying away from the obstacles.”
When asked about the team’s new ranking, Joffe said, “It is a great emblem of validation or whatever the words are, but the kids are understanding really well that every day you go out there it is a new day, and you need to perform and you need to play and you need to play hard. Whether our team is ranked 15 or 10 or better or a lot worse, you still go out there and perform. That is what I was most pleased about today. We had three doubles teams and six singles kids who went out to play good tennis, and that is the object of the exercise. The ranking, it will come and go.”
A&M aims to break its consecutive win streak record when the Aggies conclude their longest home stand of the season in Friday’s match-up against the 16th-ranked Wolverines, the Aggies’ highest ranked opponent of the year. The match is the Aggies’ final match before opening Big 12 Conference play at Missouri on Friday, March 16.
“Michigan is not only a very fine team and a very well coached team, but they have been entrenched in the top 10 in the nation over the last three or four years,” Joffe said. “It is a team that is experienced, and we will have to play well and perform well. We have every intention of doing that.”
Any youth tennis club members wearing anything with their team name or logo will receive free admission to the Michigan match. Also the first 150 kids will receive a free drawstring bag.
Season tickets and individual tickets to home matches can be purchased in advance online at AggieAthletics.com or by calling the Athletic Ticket Office at 1-888-99-AGGIE. Tickets also can be purchased at the entrance to the tennis center begin one hour before the start of the match.
No. 15 Texas A&M 7, William and Mary 0
March 6, 2012
George P. Mitchell Tennis Center
College Station, Texas
1. (#114) Nazari Urbina (TAMU) def. Maria Belaya (W&M), 6-2, 6-4
2. (#4) Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (TAMU) def. Jeltje Loomans (W&M), 6-3, 6-3
3. (#86) Wen Sun (TAMU) def. Hope Johnson (W&M), 6-3, 6-2
4. Lauren Santacroce (TAMU) def. Kayla Rizzolo (W&M), 7-6, (1), 7-6 (4)
5. Janelle Cuthbertson (TAMU) def. Anik Cepeda (W&M), 6-0, 7-5
6. Sheri Olivier (TAMU) def. Katie Kargl (W&M), 7-6 (1), 6-2
Doubles (A&M wins the point)
1. (#35) Belaya/Loomans (W&M) def. Sanchez-Quintanar/Sun (TAMU), 8-5
2. Cuthbertson/Urbina (TAMU) def. Cepeda/Johnson (W&M), 8-3
3. Olivier/Santacroce (TAMU) def. Kargl/Nina Vulovich (W&M), 8-3
Order of finish
Doubles: 3, 1, 2
Singles: 3, 2, 1*, 5, 6, 4
* - Clinched match
Texas A&M: 9-1
William & Mary: 3-8