May 14, 2010

Courtesy of UNLV Athletics

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -
After three straight seasons coming up empty while playing next door in California as part of the NCAA Women's Tennis Championships, UNLV found it simply had to travel 2,000 miles to hot and humid North Carolina to earn its second-ever tournament win -- and first in a dozen years.

In fact, the 36th-ranked Lady Rebels had lost in the first round of this event by the score of 4-0 in five consecutive appearances. However, the team from the desert overcame the steamy conditions and major time-zone difference to upset No. 25 Virginia Commonwealth 4-3 on Friday morning at Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center.

The Lady Rebels improved to 22-4 overall and notched their highest-ranked win since knocking off No. 23 TCU on April 26, 2008. The Rams, who had defeated UNLV 4-3 each of the last two seasons during regular-season matches in Las Vegas, ended its season at 20-5. The only other time UNLV advanced past the first round came during the program's first NCAA appearance in 1998 when it downed Washington State in Las Vegas.

UNLV will next take on host North Carolina in Saturday's second round beginning at 8 a.m. PT. Live scoring will be available at unlvrebels.com. The second-ranked Tar Heels won their first round match 4-0 over Richmond on Friday afternoon. The winner will move into the NCAA Round of 16, which will be staged in Athens, Ga., on May 20.

On Friday, the Lady Rebels did something vs. the Colonial Athletic Association champions that they had never done in NCAA play - win the always-crucial doubles point.

VCU struck first with a quick 8-1 final on court three. However, senior Kristina Nedeltcheva, the top doubles player in school history, upped her school record for career wins to 98 when she and partner Jana Albers, who are ranked 62nd, downed Ana Bara and Josefin Hjertquist 8-4 at the top position. That meant that the point would come down to the second spot and Alisa Razina and Anna Maskaljun upset 76th-ranked Laura Burns and Kateryna Yergina 8-4 to clinch it. For Razina, the team's only other senior, it was career doubles win number 82, which ranks her third all-time at the school.
 
"We got off to a slow start at No. 3 doubles but fortunately 1 and 2 were playing really well," said UNLV head coach Kevin Cory. "We know we're tough to beat when we win the doubles point so that was huge for us like it has been all season."

Moving to singles play, junior Adrienn Hidvegi rolled to a 6-3, 6-3 win over Burns at No. 4 to make it 2-0 and improve Hidvegi to 28-6 on the year. VCU got on the board when Yergina upset 101st-ranked Albers 6-1, 6-2 at the third spot. UNLV freshman Nives Pavlovic would then pick up a key 6-4, 6-2 victory over Hjertquist on court two to make it 3-1. The Rams, however, soon tied it with straight-set victories at No. 6 and then No. 5.

"Adrienn's win was huge because she lost to that same player when they played in Las Vegas (in 2008)," Cory said. "We felt confident we could get a couple wins out of the top three courts and Nives really stepped up her game today."

All eyes moved to court one where Nedeltcheva, ranked 45th in singles, had split sets with Ana Bara. The UNLV leader bolted to a 4-0 lead in the deciding set and then, after losing the next four games, finished off her opponent 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 to deliver her team the long-awaited victory.

"I figured out that it was going to come down to my match so I felt pressure," Nedeltcheva admitted. "I lost my energy in the second set but was able to refocus and take it point by point in the third. I knew I needed to do it for all of us and it feels amazing to get the win."

Nedeltcheva, one of only two players in school history to be named first team all-conference in both singles and doubles all four seasons on campus, improved to 28-9 on the season while picking up her 90th career singles triumph, which ranks fourth on the school's list.

"Having Kristina out there to clinch it was fitting for us since she has meant so much to this program the last four years," said Cory, who went into Friday with a 0-6 record in NCAA matches as head coach. "This was a long time coming, that's for sure. We have had some really tough draws the past few years and certainly we did again this year. We've now played three straight matches vs. VCU that could have gone either way and fortunately today, it went our way."