ATHENS, Ga. – Sophomore Rachel Kahan of Duke, hoarse from hours of shouts and shots, had ice taped up and down her right arm Saturday night.
Lauren Herring's match at No. 4 singles went to a third-set tiebreaker that wound up ending Saturday's NCAA quarterfinal. (Photo by UGA Sports Communications)
But it was her opponent who truly seemed to be in pain.
The sometimes cruel nature of an elimination tournament and a team sport that singles out its participants was personified in Georgia rookie Lauren Herring, who fought back tears while describing the final match of her freshman season, which happened to decide a marathon NCAA quarterfinal.
Kahan’s 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (5) win at No. 4 singles over Herring not only clinched a 4-2 victory for No. 3 seed Duke over sixth-seeded host Georgia, but it came after Herring led 5-3 in the third set and let a match point slip away.
“I probably backed off a little bit,” Herring said. “I played hesitantly, and she stepped up.”
The Blue Devils (29-2) advance to face defending NCAA champion Florida (25-1) in one of two women's semifinals at 1 p.m. Monday. Rivals UCLA (25-2) and Southern Cal (24-3) will clash in the other semifinal.
Georgia (24-5) won’t be a part of it after coming up short in an exciting back-and-forth affair that thrilled the majority of 1,511 fans in attendance at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
The Bulldogs seized the doubles point and took a 2-1 lead when No. 1 Chelsey Gullickson beat the nation’s second-ranked player Beatrice Capra of Duke 6-3, 6-2.
But things weren’t going so well for Georgia on the other courts. Duke won the first set in four of the other singles matches, forcing the Bulldogs to fight from behind, which they did.
Duke's Rachel Kahan had ice on her right shoulder after a gritty win to decide Saturday's match at Georgia. (Photo courtesy of Duke University)
Herring’s defeat was the last of three singles matches that Duke won Saturday in the third and deciding set. Another ongoing match at No. 5 singles was halted in the third set when Kahan won a tiebreaker to end festivities after nearly five hours.
“We fought hard,” UGA coach Jeff Wallace said. “We had lots of opportunities, and you’ve just got to credit Duke. They played great.”
One of the nation’s top juniors when she signed with UGA out of Greenville, N.C., near Duke’s campus, Herring lost the first set quickly and was in danger of being routed by Kahan when she turned an emotional match’s direction in the second set and then fought, shout-by-shout, to claim a 5-3 lead and a match point.
With much of the crowd eyeing the pivotal match point, Herring charged the net, and Kahan was able to slap a passing shot to extend the match.
“She’s an unbelievable player,” Kahan said. “I just tried to play it like any other point and just hit the shot. Luckily, it went in.”
“Lauren put pressure on her and made Rachel come up with the shot,” Duke coach Jamie Ashworth said. “She was able to do that and then ride the momentum a little bit for a couple more points.”
Kahan won the next three games before Herring was able to win a game and force a third-set tiebreak. By this point, Georgia’s Maho Kowase had lost at No. 3 singles and Lilly Kimbell had lost at No. 6 singles, giving Duke a 3-2 advantage with two matches on court.
In the tiebreak, Kahan claimed a 6-3 lead and lost two points before Herring netted a shot to end the match.
Lilly Kimbell and the Bulldogs fought back to force a third set after losing the first set in three different matches. (Photo by UGA Sports Communications)
“It was hard,” Herring said. “I didn’t feel that the entire match I was playing well. It was just kind of trying to find a way to win. I put myself in the right position, and she played some good points, and the momentum kind of changed from there.”
Duke’s players flooded onto court No. 4 to celebrate with Kahan, who was hurting and actually took a medical timeout at one point for her right shoulder.
Nonetheless, she was all smiles after the match, along with teammates and her coach.
“Peter Smith, the USC’s men’s coach, told me it’s like a rite of passage to win an NCAA match against Georgia here,” Ashworth said. “I kept thinking about that all day. We just played a hell of a match in singles.”
The loss was the team finale for Gullickson, Georgia’s senior and former NCAA singles champion. She went out impressively, snapping Capra’s 16-match win streak in a surprising one-sided showcase match on the No. 1 court.
“When Chelsey is on, it’s really hard to beat Chelsey,” Capra said. “I mean, she played in the U.S. Open. She’s an amazing player, and I’ve always hard respect for her.”
“It’s devastating to not be able to win as a team,” Gullickson said. “We came out playing great on Thursday and today, but Duke just played amazing. There was really nothing that we could do. I’m proud of everyone on the team. All the girls were fighting.”
Saturday’s result makes the third consecutive season that Georgia’s season has ended short of the national semifinals and the sixth time since 2003 that the Bulldogs have been eliminated in the quarterfinals.
“It’s tough. We’re obviously really disappointed,” Wallace said. “We’ve got a great team, and these guys are just best friends. It really hurts. They want to spend more time together, and they want to play more. It’s really tough right now, but I’m extremely proud of them as a coach.”
Duke 4, Georgia 2
1. #46 Kate Fuller/Nadja Gilchrist (GEORGIA) def. #21 Mary Clayton/Ester Goldfeld (DUKE), 8-1
2. #17 Beatrice Capra/Rachel Kahan (DUKE) def. Chelsey Gullickson/Lauren Herring (GEORGIA), 8-6
3. Lilly Kimbell/Maho Kowase (GEORGIA) def. Monica Gorny/Hanna Mar (DUKE), 8-6
1. #7 Chelsey Gullickson (GEORGIA) def. #2 Beatrice Capra (DUKE), 6-3, 6-2
2. #110 Ester Goldfeld (DUKE) def. Nadja Gilchrist (GEORGIA), 6-2, 7-5
3. #59 Hanna Mar (DUKE) def. #58 Maho Kowase (GEORGIA), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
4. #85 Rachel Kahan (DUKE) def. #70 Lauren Herring (GEORGIA), 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(5)
5. #66 Mary Clayton (DUKE) vs. #96 Kate Fuller (GEORGIA), 6-7(5), 6-4, 3-1, unfinished
6. #97 Monica Turewicz (DUKE) def. Lilly Kimbell (GEORGIA), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3
Order of Finish