May 8, 2009

Courtesy of Princeton

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- The Sunshine State's fingerprints were all over the third NCAA tournament match in Princeton women's tennis history, from the site, to the opponent, to the weather, to the finish.

Sisters Melissa and Rachel Saiontz, a junior and freshman playing just a few miles from their home in South Florida, were the last two on court and were on the short side of two agonizingly close matches Friday afternoon as Florida International got by Princeton 4-3.

The Golden Panthers (19-5) will advance to the NCAA tournament's second round Saturday afternoon against either host Miami or Army.

Princeton came close to stopping FIU's 13-match win streak that had the Golden Panthers rolling through Sun Belt Conference play. The Saiontz sisters split to team with Lauren McHale and Rebecca Parks to help Princeton win the doubles point, giving the Tigers a 1-0 lead entering singles play.

Sophomore Blakely Ashley breezed by FIU's Maria Vallasciani, 6-1, 6-0, at sixth singles, but that's where the breeze stopped on an 85 degree day.

FIU evened the score with wins at fifth singles, over Taylor Marable, and first singles, over McHale. Princeton pulled ahead only briefly, with Hilary Barlett's win at second singles, but from there it was up to the hometown sisters.

Rachel Saiontz, who lost the first set at fourth singles by tiebreak, also had the second set slip, losing 7-6 (7), 6-3 to Maria Dolores Pazo to even the match at 3-3.

Melissa Saiontz, who had won the first set at third singles 6-4, was even with FIU's Maria Spenceley 4-4 in set two before the Golden Panther won the last two games to send it to the day's only third set. Spenceley ruled the stanza, winning 6-2 to send her team into the second round.

Princeton finishes a successful season at 18-8, having won its first Ivy League title since 2000 and making its first NCAA appearance since that season as well when Tennessee defeated the Tigers 5-1. Princeton's only other NCAA appearance was in 1983, a 9-0 loss to Stanford.

The season will go on for two Tigers as Bartlett and Marable were selected to play in the NCAA doubles tournament beginning May 20. The Tigers can return every player from the young lineup they fielded in the NCAAs with Melissa Saiontz as the only Tiger to have even junior standing.

Florida International (19-5) 4, Princeton (18-8) 3
1. Muci/Pazo (F) vs. Bartlett/Marable (P), 6-4, unfinished
2. McHale/R. Saiontz (P) def. Brito/Vallasciani (F), 8-6
3. Rebecca Parks/M. Saiontz (P) def. Castillo/Spenceley (F), 8-4
Order of finish: 2, 3
1. Liset Brito (F) def. Lauren McHale (P), 6-4, 7-6
2. Hilary Bartlett (P) def. Mariana Muci (F), 6-4, 6-4
3. Maria Spenceley (F) def. Melissa Saiontz (P), 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
4. Maria Dolores Pazo (F) def. Rachel Saiontz (P), 7-6, 6-3
5. Priscilla Castillo (F) def. Taylor Marable (P), 6-3, 6-4
6. Blakely Ashley (P) def. Maria Vallasciani (P), 6-1, 6-0
Order of finish: 6, 5, 1, 2, 4, 3