May 30, 2010

By Andy Johnston
Special to NCAA.com

ATHENS, Ga. - For some reason, thoughts of losing in last year's NCAA semifinals kept popping up in Chelsey Gullickson's mind. Over and over, that defeat kept plaguing her.

Once she focused on Sunday's match, the Georgia sophomore pulled away from Stanford's Hilary Barte and advanced to the singles final with a 7-6 (6), 6-3 victory at Henry Feild Stadium.

Gullickson is the first Georgia player to advance to the championship since Angela Lettiere won the title in 1994.

"This is huge. This a big deal," Georgia coach Jeff Wallace said. "It's well-deserved because Chelsey is a great player, a great competitor."

Gullickson, seeded 9-16, will meet California's second-seeded Jana Juricova in Monday's final, which is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. (EDT). She is 2-0 in her career against Juricova, who knocked off Miami's Laura Vallverdu 7-6, 6-2 in the other semifinal.

Gullickson and partner Nadja Gilchrist lost in their bid to reach the doubles final, as Tennessee's top-seeded team of Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey defeated them 6-1, 7-6 (11) in a semifinal.

In singles, Barte took a 4-1 advantage in the first set, but Gullickson broke her to cut the lead to 4-3 and then tied it at 4-all. She won the first set when Barte hit the net in the tiebreaker.

Gullickson, who is the daughter of former Major League pitcher Bill Gullickson, controlled the second set with her serve and strong shot-making, going up 5-3 before putting Barte away with a backhanded winner on match point.

"I think I was a little nervous in the first set, but Hilary played a great match," Gullickson said. "I knew coming out that she would give me a hard fight. I was just trying to stay focused throughout the whole match and stick to my game plan.

"She kind of gave me a hard time in the first set with her two set points and everything, but I just tried to stay consistent and just tried to break her down."

Three short, first-set rain delays seemed to bother both players, but they lasted just a total of 33 minutes.

"It kind of frustrated me a little bit, but the coaches just kind of helped me out and calmed me down with it," Gullickson said. "I just tried to stay calm with the rain delays and everything."

In defeating Barte, Gullickson accomplished something that had happened only once in singles in the first 10 days of this tournament. Barte plays No. 1 singles and doubles for Stanford, and since the Cardinal won the team championship, she played eight matches before the individual singles/doubles portion started.

This was her 16th match of the tournament. Previously, she had gone a combined 11-2 (singles and doubles), with two team matches that were not completed.

"She's obviously a great player and I know if I leave one sitting up, it's kind of lights out," Barte said. "In terms of countering that, she'd hit some great shots and I'd just have to hit my racket and say, 'Too good.' I thought I did a good job, especially in the first set, of keeping her off balance. In the second, she was just too good."

DOUBLES: Stanford's second-seeded team of Barte and Lindsay Burdette will return to the final, where they will play Pluskota and Whoriskey in Monday's final at noon (EDT).

Barte and Burdette, who lost in last year's final to California's Juricova and Mari Andersson, are 6-1 in doubles at the NCAA Championships, including the team tournament, after rolling past UCLA's fourth-seeded team of Andrea Remynse and Yasmin Schnack 6-0, 6-1 in Sunday's semifinals.

Burdette is from Jackson, Ga., about 75 miles from Athens.

"The doubles match was exactly what we've been looking for all year," Burdette said. "We definitely have had some ups and downs this year. We have a very aggressive game style and it's really hard to have it firing on all cylinders, and I feel like we've just worked and worked and worked until we got that going today. That's a good example of how good we can be when we're going full-bore."