Pluskota & Szekely Take Down NCAA Tournament's Third Seed
ATHENS, Ga. - Senior Natalie Pluskota became the fifth player in Tennessee Lady Vol tennis history to advance to the NCAA Singles Tournament Round of 16, and to earn All-American honors in singles and doubles during her career, accomplishing both with a 5-7, 6-1, 7-5 win over Arizona's Lacey Smyth on Thursday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Later in the day, she teamed up with junior Kata Szekely to upset third-seeded and fourth-ranked Shinann Featherston and Lauren McHale of North Carolina in doubles 7-6 (2), 6-3 in the opening round of the NCAA Doubles Tournament.
Both Round of 16 matches will be played on Friday. Times have yet to be determined. Pluskota is the second Lady Vol to advance to the Round of 16 in both singles and doubles in the same season.
After dropping a tightly-contested opening set, Pluskota dominated the second frame, 6-1, and raced out to a 5-2 second-set lead. Pluskota capped the win with a 7-5 third set, and became the 10th Lady Vol to earn All-American accolades in singles.
Pluskota will face the tournament's third seed in Stanford's Nicole Gibbs on Friday in the Round of 16.
In doubles, Pluskota and Szekely battled back from the brink of losing the first set, trailing 5-4. The tandem, which is now 16-1 overall and has won nine consecutive matches together, won the next two games before UNC forced a tiebreaker.
After splitting the first four points, Pluskota and Szekely reeled off five in a row to take the first set.
Featherston and McHale responded by winning the first two games of the second set. But Pluskota and Szekely were too strong, winning the next three games and six of the next seven to pull off the upset.
Tennessee's duo will face the winner of Millie Nichols/Olivia Smith (TCU) and Emily Fraser/Lindsey Hardenbergh (Virginia) on Thursday. A win would lift the duo to automatic All-American status in doubles.
Szekely and sophomore Brynn Boren were eliminated from the NCAA Singles Championship in Thursday's Round of 32. Szekely lost in straight sets to Georgia State's Abigail Tere-Apisah (19-1) 6-3, 6-4. Boren fell in a three and a half-hour match to Baylor's Nina Secerbegovic 6-7 (2), 7-5, 6-4.
Szekely caps a fantastic singles season with a team-high 26 wins, while Boren was second on the team with 25 wins.
NCAA SINGLES TOURNAMENT - ROUND OF 32
#35 Natalie Pluskota (UT) def. #50 Lacey Smith (Arizona) 5-7, 6-1, 7-5
#23 Nina Secerbegovic (Baylor) def. #32 Brynn Boren (UT) 6-7 (2), 7-5, 6-4
Abigail Tere-Apisah (Georgia State) def. #57 Kata Szekely (UT) 6-3, 6-4
NCAA DOUBLES TOURNAMENT - FIRST ROUND
Natalie Pluskota/Kata Szekely (UT) def. (3) Shinann Featherston/Lauren McHale (UNC) 7-6 (2), 6-3