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W. Tennis Falls at No. 9 UCF, 4-1, in NCAA Round of 32

by Alex Schwartz

ORLANDO, Fla. The University of Miami women’s tennis team dropped a 4-1 decision Saturday evening at ninth-ranked UCF in the second round of the NCAA Team Championship.

No. 23 Miami (15-9, 8-5 ACC) took the doubles point at the USTA National Campus, but the ninth-seeded Knights won all six first sets in singles on their way to victory.

“We’ve gotten tougher. We’ve gotten experience this year; we’ve learned so much about ourselves,” Miami head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said. “We’ve improved as a team, but with every step you take in the tournament, it requires even another level of maturity, even another level of physicality, even another level of dealing with adversity.”

The Hurricanes turned in an impressive showing in doubles to earn the opening point. First, third-year sophomore Daevenia Achong and second-year freshman Florencia Urrutia raced out to a 5-0 lead on Nandini Sharma and Rebeka Stolmar, en route to a 6-1 victory.

Miami’s No. 22-ranked duo of fifth-year senior Estela Perez-Somarriba and freshman Isabella Pfennig clinched the point by downing Ksenia Kuznetsova and Valeriya Zeleva, 6-2.

When play stopped, the Hurricanes also held the edge on the final court, as the No. 15-ranked pair of second-year freshmen Diana Khodan and Maya Tahan had a 4-3 edge on Nadja Bay Christians and Evgeniya Levashova.

“We came out and I just think we played on our terms. We played well. I was just happy with the way everybody played,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “Dominant at one, dominant at three, in it at two. Just did what we needed to do. You play a set of doubles, it’s fast and there is a lot of momentum involved. Today we were able to grab the momentum early, so it was good.”

It did not take long for UCF (20-4, 3-0 AAC) to level the score in singles, as Jaleesa Leslie turned in a stellar performance to defeat Khodan, 6-2, 6-1.

About 15 minutes later, the Knights got two more points in succession. Kuznetsova topped Urrutia, 6-3, 6-1, and then Levashova beat Achong, 6-0, 6-3, to make it 3-1. The Hurricanes, however, despite a two-point deficit and down a set on every remaining court, still had ample opportunities to rally for a comeback, leading in the second set in each match.

No. 10 Pfennig appeared to be the first Hurricane who would get a split, but No. 38 Stolmar fought off multiple set points while serving at 3-5. She then continued to storm back and took a 6-5 lead, before Pfennig forced a tiebreaker.

The two players split the first eight points before Stolmar won the next two. Pfennig staved off one match point, but could not do so the second time, as Stolmar sealed a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) win to clinch the victory for the UCF.

“I think [the Knights] realized that they needed to change the momentum early or the match would get away from them and they did just that,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “I think where they won some first sets, our young kids got a little spooked. The crowd was kind of rowdy, the match was not going their way [and they were] not really thinking through things the way we needed to be thinking through things on some courts. And then a match gets away from you pretty quickly.”

Miami already had one split when the match ended, as top-ranked Perez-Somarriba won her second set against No. 22 Zaleva, in a match that ended 4-6, 6-1, 1-1. Tahan nearly had her split sealed, as well, sporting a 30-0 lead in the ninth game of the set. Her match ended with Sharma holding a 7-5, 5-3 advantage.

For Perez-Somarriba, this marked the final dual match of her decorated career. She went 94-9 in such contests, including 82-7 at the top position.

Miami, on pace for its 18th consecutive top-25 finish in the ITA rankings, reached 15 wins for the 18th completed season in a row, despite a slightly condensed schedule due to COVID-19. The program also made its 19th straight appearance in the NCAA Team Championship Round of 32 and finished above .500 for the 25th straight year.

“The goal has got to be to host. The goal has got to play on your court and [in that case] you don’t have to deal with as much adversity,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “But when you’re dealt a tough crowd and you’re dealt a tough situation, we’ve got to respond a little bit tougher. That’s not to say that we’re not tough because we are and we’ve proven that time and time again this year. I just think today the girls needed to step up in certain moments and, for whatever reason, they decided not to. And that’s when a match gets away.”

The Hurricanes now look towards the NCAA individual championships, which begin May 23 back at the USTA National Campus. Miami is of just six teams in the nation with two entrants in both the NCAA Singles Championship and the NCAA Doubles Championship.

To keep up with the University of Miami women’s tennis team on social media, follow @CanesWTennis on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

RESULTS

Doubles Competition
1. No. 22 Estela Perez-Somarriba/Isabella Pfennig (UM) def. Ksenia Kuznetsova/Vleriya Zeleva (UCF), 6-2
2. No. 15 Diana Khodan/Maya Tahan (UM) vs. Nadja Bay Christians/Evgeniya Levashova (UCF), 4-3, unf.
3. Daevenia Achong/Florencia Urrutia (UM) def. Nandini Sharma/Rebeka Stolmar (UCF), 6-1

Singles Competition
1. No. 1 Estela Perez-Somarriba (UM) vs. No. 22 Valeriya Zeleva (UCF), 4-6, 6-1, 1-1, unf.
2. No. 38 Rebeka Stolmar (UCF) def. No. 10 Isabella Pfennig (UM), 6-3, 7-6 (7-5)
3. Evgeniya Levashova (UCF) def. Daevenia Achong (UM), 6-0, 6-3
4. Ksenia Kuznetsova (UCF) def. Florencia Urrutia (UM), 6-3, 6-1
5. Jaleesa Leslie (UCF) def. Diana Khodan (UM), 6-2, 6-1
6. Nandini Sharma (UCF) def. Maya Tahan (UM), 7-5, 3-5, unf.