URBANA, Ill. – Texas A&M finished its historic season as the national champion runner-up after falling to Stanford, 4-3, today in the finals of the NCAA Championship at the Kahn Outdoor Tennis Complex.
The Aggies, who had reached the NCAA round of 16 only once in school history before this season, conclude the year 26-4 under second-year head coach Howard Joffe, setting a record for the most wins in school history.
For the second consecutive match, the winner was determined in the last match standing. This time, however, the outcome would not favor the Aggies, as A&M junior Cristina Stancu fell to the Cardinal’s 25th-ranked Kristie Ahn, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2, in a hotly contested match at No. 2 singles.
Texas A&M took the early lead in doubles as the 18th-ranked pair of Stefania Hristov and Stancu jumped out to a 5-1 lead over eighth-ranked Nicole Gibbs, the 2012 NCAA champion in both singles and doubles, and Ahn at the No. 1 court. The Aggies went on to post an 8-3 victory, equaling their highest ranked win in dual match play this season.
Stanford quickly evened the race for the crucial doubles point, as 28th-ranked Stacey Tan and Ellen Tsay got up a break, 4-3, against 49th-ranked Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar and Wen Sun at No. 2. A&M was unable to get back on serve, and the Cardinal went on to take the match, 8-4.
The doubles point came down to the No. 3 court where Aggie twins Ines and Paula Deheza had put the match back on serve against Stanford’s Natalie Dillon and Krista Hardebeck, getting within 5-4. The match stayed on serve until the Cardinal broke to go up 7-5. A&M had three set points to break in the following game, but Stanford came back to finish off the game and the match, 8-5, clinching the point for Stanford.
A&M began the singles portion of the match by winning the first set on four of six courts, but the Aggies were unable to hang onto the lead.
Stanford got its only straight-set victory at the No. 4 court to take a 2-0 lead. Ines Deheza, who posted a heroic last-match-standing, three-set victory in the Aggies’ 4-3 victory over UCLA to propel Texas A&M into the title match, was unable to duplicate the feat and suffered her only singles loss in NCAA tournament play with a 7-5, 6-3 loss to 103rd-ranked Tan.
The Cardinal later took a 3-0 lead with a three-set victory at the No. 1 line. Sanchez-Quintanar, ranked No. 4 in the nation in singles, opened her match by racing to a 6-0 first-set victory over 13th-ranked Gibbs. Sanchez-Quintanar went on to win the first two games of the second set before the reigning singles champion turned on the burners. Gibbs won the next 12 games to close out a 0-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory.
Aggie freshman Anna Mamalat put A&M on the scoreboard with a straight-set victory at No. 5. Mamalat jumped out to a 4-0 lead against 92nd-ranked Tsay en route to a 6-1 win in the opening set. The second set was closely contested on was on serve with Mamalat leading, 6-5. The Philadelphia native then broke Tsay to win the match, 6-1, 7-5, to put A&M within 3-1.
Aggie senior Nazari Urbina, the lone four-year letterwinner on the squad, put the Aggies within 3-2 and won her fifth consecutive NCAA tournament match with a 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory over 14th-ranked Hardebeck at No. 3. It marked Urbina’s highest ranked win of the 2013 dual match season and the fifth highest ranked win of her career.
Hristov then knotted the score at 3-3 with a three-set win over Dillon at No. 6. After splitting the first two sets, 6-2, 3-6, Hristov won the first five games of the third set before closing out the 6-1 victory and forcing the match to come down to the No. 2 court.
It was Stanford’s 17th NCAA title as the Cardinal finish the season 22-4.
Hristov and Stancu were named to the all-tournament team at No. 1 doubles. They will complete in the NCAA Doubles Championship beginning Thursday.
Urbina was named to the all-tournament team at No. 3 singles. She and Sanchez-Quintanar both will be competing in the NCAA Singles Championship beginning Wednesday. Urbina is making a school-record fourth consecutive appearance in the tournament. Sanchez-Quintanar, who reached the quarterfinals last year, is the No. 4 seed in the 64-player field.
Live scoring of the individual championships will be available at http://www.fightingillini.com/ncaatennis2013/
Texas A&M Head Coach Howard Joffe
(On the team’s rapid improvement overall and success this season)
This is the first time as a head coach that I’ve made it to the Round of 16. I’ve only been at Texas A&M for two years. If you want a synopsis of the season, the trajectory of our team is rather sharp. Two years ago we were ranked 33, last year 17 and this year we’ll probably end the year either No. 2 or 3. We obviously have a very, very fine team. It is not shocking to me that we were here in the final match. We do have very, very good players, and the trajectory and the speed that we have come from nowhere so to speak is somewhat startling even to the head coach.
Just simply at the level of such a meteoric rise, from middle of the pack to being right there near the top, it is a little bit startling. From the point of the viewer, there is no question that the eight ladies on our team are awful good. With respect to today’s match, I certainly don’t feel like we played our very best, and we still came within a couple of points here and there of actually winning a title. We have a very good team, so in that respect it’s not so surprising.
(On No. 2 singles)
The score line doesn’t necessarily do justice to the match, particularly with respect to the third set. Tina (Stancu) was up 2-love in the beginning of that set. Anyone that watched the match in its entirety, the quality of tennis of that match was very high, two very fine athletes moving, hitting the ball very hard and intense, so it just had the quality feel that it could change on a point here and a point there, which it did. I wouldn’t have bet a lot that we were going to come back from 5-2 match point, and yet when Tina ended up saving a match point to having the advantage, it didn’t feel like too much of a stretch for her to get back into the match.
The score maybe belies a little bit. 6-2 is probably not the most accurate, but Ahn really, really is a very fine tennis player and she played well.
(on the emotion of the team to start the match)
I think in the doubles we suffered from not playing our best doubles. In the doubles, I felt like we were playing a little tentatively. Not at No. 1, the Romanians played awful well, but in the other two doubles, I felt like we were a little tentative. Other than that, there was no sign of being over awed by the occasion. They really got after it and so did Stanford.
Texas A&M Senior Nazari Urbina
We are really happy for the things that we achieved this year. We had a great team. The girls are just great girls, great persons, they are just great teammates. I’m really happy for the team. Obviously we wish we could have won tonight, but that is how things go. It was a tough match. Stanford, they played great. All of the girls kept fighting until the end. That is how things are, but we are really happy for all the achievements this year.