May 14, 2010

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - For the second straight year, the Princeton women's tennis team came just about as close as it possibly could to winning its first NCAA tournament match only to fall just short.

No. 27 Virginia will advance to face No. 10 Duke in the NCAA second round Saturday after defeating the Tigers 4-3.

Princeton, ranked No. 33 in the nation, advanced to the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history and took its opponent to the final singles match both times.

The so-close theme started early for the Tigers, who won at first doubles with the 27th-ranked duo of Hilary Bartlett and Taylor Marable but lost at third doubles. That put the doubles point in the hands of the Saiontz sisters, senior Melissa and sophomore Rachel, but the Floridians fell 8-6.

Bartlett, a sophomore ranked 78th in the nation as a singles player, had the most dominant day of any Tiger, teaming with the junior Marable to win 8-2 at first doubles before giving up just two games to No. 57 Lindsey Hardenbergh at first singles in a 6-0, 6-2 win.

That tied the team score at 1-1, but Virginia's Emily Fraser put the Cavaliers back in the lead with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Melissa Saiontz at second singles. Blakely Ashley tied it again for the Tigers with her 6-1, 6-3 win over Katie Gater at fifth, but again Virginia came right back with a win at third by Erin Vierra over Rachel Saiontz, 6-2, 6-4.

With Virginia ahead 3-2, the last two matches on court went to third sets. Princeton tied it for the third time when freshman Monica Chow rallied after losing the first set to beat Maria Fuccillo at sixth, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.

The focus of the match then moved to court No. 4 where Taylor Marable had won the first set 6-3 but saw Hana Tomljanovic come back to win the second set 6-3 and ultimately the match with a 7-5 victory in the third stanza.

Princeton's 4-3 loss a year ago to Florida International also came on the court of an Atlantic Coast Conference team in Miami. But like last year, the NCAA team match won't be the final competition of the season for every Tiger. Bartlett and Marable, who lost in the first round of the NCAA doubles tournament a year ago, will be back again when the event starts May 26 in Athens, Ga.

On the team scale, the loss concludes a season that saw the Tigers win 20 dual matches, a program record, and win back-to-back Ivy League titles for the first time since 1993 and 1994. Princeton's NCAA tournament was its fourth after being blanked by Stanford in 1983 and getting one point in a loss to Tennessee in 2000 before last season's near-miss.