May 20, 2010

Sidebar: Interstate Rivals Clash

By Andy Johnston
Special to NCAA.com

ATHENS, Ga.-Brian Kalbas could see the scores start to swing in Florida State's favor, but he insists he wasn't concerned.

Kalbas' confidence remained firm as second-seeded North Carolina held on to defeat the Seminoles 4-1 on Thursday and reach the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I women's tennis championships at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

Shinann Featherston clinched the match at No. 6 singles to help the Tar Heels (29-4) knock off No. 15 seed Florida State (16-11) for the third time in the past month and reach the quarters for only the third time in program history.

The women's tournament resumed with eight matches, which continued late Thursday night.

"It's difficult to beat a team three times in your conference," Kalbas said. "Florida State played really well. This was just a tremendous match. We feel fortunate to advance and we're excited to get to the quarterfinals. It was a great match for us."

North Carolina won the regular-season match 4-0 on April 18 and turned around six days later for another 4-0 victory in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Kalbas shuffled his lineup for Thursday's match, flopping Sophie Grabinski and Gina Suarez-Malaguti at Nos. 4-5 singles and moving every doubles team to a different slot.

The strategy seemed to work as the Tar Heels won the doubles point and quickly took a 3-0 lead as Suarez-Malaguti defeated Federica Suess 6-3, 6-2 at No. 5 and Grabinski knocked off Amy Sargeant 6-4, 6-3 at No. 4.

"We had a lineup we submitted that we felt was the best lineup at this point in time," Kalbas said.

Florida State began to gain momentum at first singles as Lauren McCreless won a second set tiebreaker against Sanaz Marand and Francesca Segarelli forced a third set against Jelena Durisic at No. 3.

Those two matches were in the third sets when Featherston, a sophomore from Rockaway Park, N.Y., defeated Jessica Sucupira 7-6 (5), 6-2.

"(Segarelli) and I were in the tiebreakers at the same time, and Fran was leading in hers, and hearing the crowd for her, really helped me get the momentum going in my match," McCreless said. "I thought, 'I have to get into the third set for my team here, because it could change everything.' For us to come back, it could have been a whole different story."

Instead, Featherston won to end the Seminoles' first trip to the Round of 16.

"It was a heck of a match," Florida State coach Jennifer Hyde said. "This team, all season, has been fighters. One thing you can't coach is soul, and this team has it. I've been blessed to be able to work with them this year. This was a tight one and they've got no reason to hang their heads. It's been a really positive season at Florida State."

Even if Featherston's match had continued, Kalbas remained sure either Marand or Durisic would have won at either Nos. 1 or 3.

"Sanaz has been such a great competitor for us," he said. "She's clinched a lot of big matches for us, so even though she lost that second set, I knew she could finish it off in the third. It was just going to take a little more time."

Fresh off playing one ACC opponent, the Tar Heels will turn their attention to another when they meet rival Duke (22-7) in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m. (EDT) Saturday. It will be the third meeting this year between the defending national champion Blue Devils, who defeated UCLA 4-2 on Thursday.

"We've had a tremendous season and this tournament is wide open," Kalbas said. "Being the No. 2 seed, we don't feel any more pressure than anybody else. It's anybody's tournament and we're capable of going all the way."