Women’s Tennis: Vanderbilt exits SEC Tournament with loss to South Carolina

The tenth-seeded Commodores lost in the first round of the tournament.

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Vanderbilt women’s tennis competes in the SEC Tournament. (Twitter/@VandyWTennis)

Jack Hollier, Staff Writer

Vanderbilt on Wednesday fell to South Carolina 4-1 in the first round of the SEC Women’s Tennis Tournament in Tuscaloosa, Alabama after losing the doubles point and three singles points. Vanderbilt entered the SEC Tournament as the No. 10 seed to South Carolina’s No. 7 seed, but in the national ITA rankings, Vanderbilt was ranked No. 22 and South Carolina was ranked No. 27. 

In its last matchup with the Gamecocks on April 1, Vanderbilt also lost 4-1, but head coach Aleke Tsoubanos emphasized that the scoreboard didn’t completely reflect the difference in the two matches.

Compared to the match we played in Columbia a few weeks ago, this was a much more competitive match with a lot more fight,” Tsoubanos said via email to the Hustler. We have a great group that cares about one another and the response tells me they were eager to right what was honestly not a very good match we played at USC.” 

South Carolina took the doubles point with wins at lines one and two. At line one, Vanderbilt’s Anna Ross and Holly Staff fell 2-6 to South Carolina’s Megan Davies and Mia Horvit. Despite Ross and Staff’s strong serves, Davies and Horvit broke their service games multiple times with consistent play at the net. At line two, the Commodores’ Emma Kurtz and Marcella Cruz played a closer set, but lost a tight battle with Emma Shelton and Silvia Chinellato of South Carolina 4-6.

“Not being able to pull out the doubles point certainly put us in a more challenging situation entering singles,” Tsoubanos said. “We have been playing better doubles as of late but needed to be more disciplined, especially when we had opportunities and didn’t capitalize on leads in games.” 

Vanderbilt’s Christina Rosca and Annessa Lee were leading 5-4 at line three when South Carolina secured their second match and the doubles point.

When singles play began, Vanderbilt and South Carolina both quickly captured points. At line two, Kurtz fell to Davies in straight sets, 4-6, 1-6. Kurtz, a fifth-year senior, was nearly even with Davies throughout the first set. However, in the second set, Davies’ power and well-placed groundstrokes seemed to overwhelm the veteran Kurtz. Eventually, Davies’ win put the Gamecocks up 2-0.

Shortly thereafter, Vanderbilt responded: Cruz, the sophomore, came out on top 7-5, 6-1 over South Carolina’s Allie Gretkowski. Cruz stayed neck-and-neck with Gretkowski for nearly all of the first set, and her break of Gretkowski’s serve allowed her to take the set in seven games. In the second set, it was all Cruz. Gretkowski seemed to have no answer for Cruz’s serve or groundstrokes. Her victory put Vanderbilt on the board, though they trailed 1-2.

Tsoubanos took note of Cruz’s performance and her improvement over the course of the season.

Marcella competed beautifully in her singles,” Tsoubanos said. “She is one of the hardest working players on the team and we can see the growth in her physical and mental game from a year ago. If she continues to commit to her development, she can become a leader in this program, and I think she will do great things going forward.”

At line three, the freshman Lee kept her singles match competitive through the first set, but USC’s Shelton narrowly won it with a tiebreaker, 7-6. But Lee fell early and couldn’t close the deficit in the second set, which she lost 2-6. 

With South Carolina up 3-1, Vanderbilt needed to win every remaining singles match to advance to the next round. Rosca at line one, Ross at line four and Staff at line six were all embroiled in close matches, so victory was not yet out of sight.

Despite losing the first set 4-6, Ross was even with Chinellato through most of the second set. After trading service games and long rallies, they eventually reached a score of 6-6 and went into a tiebreaker that would determine whether or not the Commodores could stay alive. Even in the tiebreaker, the two were nearly even the entire time. Finally, Chinellato went up 11-9 to win the second set 7-6, which scored the fourth and match-winning point for the Gamecocks. 

Rosca won her first set 6-4 but had just conceded her second set 6-7 when South Carolina clinched the match. Holly Staff had lost her first set 4-6 and was in the midst of a tiebreaker in the second set. 

Although Vanderbilt made an early exit from the SEC Tournament, the team may have a chance to make another run in the NCAA Tournament. The teams selected for the NCAA Tournament will be announced Monday, April 26. Vanderbilt has participated in every NCAA Tournament since its inception in 1995. If that pattern continues, Vanderbilt will play again beginning May 7.