Feb. 2, 2009

Courtesy of Duke Athletics

DURHAM, N.C. — Duke University rookie Mallory Cecil captured a victory at first singles to clinch a 4-2 Blue Devil victory over No. 32 Ohio State in the ITA National Team Indoor Championship qualifying round. The win pushes the ninth-ranked Blue Devils into the 16-team ITA National Team Indoor Championship on Feb. 13-16 in Madison, Wis.

“It is very important for us [to make it to the championship in Wisconsin],” senior Melissa Mang said. “We want to do really well this season and it’s early in the season so sometimes these are the hardest matches because you’re a little nervous. These are really important matches for us to win to get off to a great start.”

The match was close from the very beginning as the doubles point came down to the top doubles spot after Ohio State took No. 3 and Duke captured the No. 2 slot. Playing in the first position, Mang and junior Amanda Granson used a break in the 10th game to take a 6-4 lead. The tandem held serve and added another break for the 8-4 victory to give Duke a 1-0 overall lead in the match. Granson and Mang are 2-0 in dual matches this season and currently are ranked 20th in the nation.

Capturing their third victory of the season at No. 3 were sophomores Reka Zsilinszka and Ellah Nze. The duo raced out to a 5-1 lead and rode that to the 8-4 victory. Senior Jessi Robinson and Cecil had a tough match as they fell behind 5-0 before falling 8-2. It was the first setback of the season for the Blue Devil pair.

In singles action, Zsilinszka added another point to Duke’s total with an easy 6-1, 6-1 victory over Cami Hubbs in the No. 3 spot. In three dual matches this season, the 56th-ranked Zsilinszka has lost just three games and is a team-best 14-5 overall in 2008-09.

The Buckeyes grabbed a point back in fourth singles as Julie Blackmore defeated Amanda Granson 6-4, 6-3. Granson missed the previous day’s matches due to sickness, but returned to the court for the Blue Devils bid to earn a spot in the ITA National Team Indoor Championship.

“She showed so much heart,” Mang said. “She was not feeling well and stuck it out. She played great in doubles, she battled in singles. That was great for our team. Just the spirit, we are a really small team, and just to have somebody out there who is not feeling well and is still showing that much heart gives everybody confidence.”

In the fifth slot, senior Melissa Mang cruised to a 6-1 opening set victory and used an incredible rally in the second-set tie-breaker to capture the 6-1, 7-6 (9-7) triumph. The Buckeyes’ Kelsey Haviland broke Mang’s serve to go up 6-5, but the Duke senior answered back with a break of her own to send the match into the tie-breaker.

In the tie-breaker, Haviland ran out to a 5-1 advantage before Mang made a furious comeback. The Metairie, La. native scored four unanswered points to make it 5-5 and eventually won 9-7 to win the set and the point for the Blue Devils. Mang is now 11-5 overall and riding a six-match win streak.

Ohio State garnered another point at the No. 6 position with Angela DiPastina beating Jessi Robinson in three sets, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2. The Buckeye victory made it a 4-2 contest with two tightly contested matches remaining.

Playing in the top spot for the first time this season, Cecil used late breaks to triumph over Kirsten Flower 7-5, 6-4. The Blue Devils and Buckeyes stayed on serve in the opening set until Cecil pulled away with a break in the 11th game for a 6-5 lead. The Spartanburg, S.C. native served out the set to take a 1-0 lead in the match.

The second set proved to be much of the same for Cecil and Flower. Tied at 4-4 with Flower serving, Cecil battled through a couple of deuce points to earn the break for the 5-4 lead. That proved to be all she needed as he served her way to the two-set win and the match victory for the Blue Devils. Cecil is now 3-0 on the season in singles.

“She’s a rock star,” Mang said. “She’s lifted our whole team’s spirit. On and off the court, she’s such a great player and she gives us so much more depth on our team. She’s just a great girl overall.”

In second singles, Nze led Paloma Escobedo 7-6 (7-4), 3-2 before the match was suspended.

The Blue Devils will be one of 16 teams traveling to Madison, Wis. for a chance to take home the ITA National Team Indoor Championship title.

“It’s the best 16 teams, but I think we have as good a shot as anyone to win it. This team has so much potential. I’ve been here for three-and-a-half years and this is the best team I have ever been on so we’re all really excited.”

Duke returns to the court on Feb. 6, hosting Indiana at 4:30 p.m., at the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center.