CARY, N.C. – Twice this season, Emory’s Gabrielle Clark had faced off with Lok-Sze Leung of Middlebury. And twice, Clark had lost.
With an overall record of 26-4, a full half of Clark’s losses were at Leung’s hands.
Clark would not lose to the native of Hong Kong again, not this year, not with so much on the line. The two met for a third time in the NCAA Division III women’s tennis singles championship round, and Clark came out with a hard-fought 6-2, 7-6 victory.
“Getting that first set definitely helped out a lot,” said Clark, the 2011 DIII rookie of the year. “I honestly think she was actually kind of nervous, being a freshman. Last year, I was very, very nervous. I think she was making a lot more mistakes than I’m used to her making.
“So I just took advantage of that. She started getting her groove back more in the second set, and I was staying steady. I just had to stay strong. I really wasn’t nervous, because I thought it was an amazing feat to get here. I’ve worked really hard, and I didn’t want to let embarrassment get in the way of how I performed today.”
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As a freshman, Clark entered last year’s singles tournament as the No. 1 seed … before promptly losing in the quarterfinals. That and the earlier losses to Leung might have intimidated a player of lesser caliber, but Clark simply used them as motivation this time around.
“I think most people would’ve come in not having a lot of confidence, but I really believed I could do it,” Clark said. “I did everything my coaches told me to do. Also … experience. I’ve been here before. I was here last year seeded No. 1, and got out in the quarters. It was definitely a disappointment, so I really think that had a lot to do with it, too.
“Being persistent and working hard will really get you far. I had some losses this year that were unexpected, that I should’ve won. That helped me more, losing those matches coming into nationals, than being undefeated did last year.”
Clark was able to get barely an hour’s rest before heading into her doubles semifinals match against Johns Hopkins. She was tired, but smiling as the singles celebration wound down. That’s what tournament tennis means at this level.
“I think she was just exhausted,” said Amy Bryant, the head women’s tennis coach at Emory. “She’s played something like 60 sets of tennis this week. She was tired. There are plusses and minuses to being on a really strong team like ours. The plus is that you get to play at a tough level day in and day out. The minus is that you come here and you’ve got to play three days of the team tournament before you hit the individual tournament.
“But … she’s a stud. She’s an athletic stud. She runs indoor track. She’s got the fitness to be able to do this. She’s not done yet.”