May 19, 2009

Courtesy of Duke Athletics

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Duke University seniors Melissa Mang and Jessi Robinson earned singles victories within minutes of each other to lead the Blue Devils to a 4-0 sweep of No. 8 California in the NCAA Women’s Tennis National Championship match. Duke captures its first national title in women’s tennis and 10th overall national trophy in school history.

Sophomore Reka Zsilinszka was selected as the NCAA Tournament Most Valuable Player. Junior Amanda Granson and Mang joined her on the all-tournament team at the No. 4 and No. 5 singles spots.

“It’s unbelievable,” Robinson said. “I don’t even have any words to describe the feeling. I love these girls and it’s an amazing feeling.”

“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but it’s unbelievable,” Mang said. “I’m just so proud of these girls. To win this with Jess [Robinson] in our senior year is amazing. I could not ask for anything better.”

Duke turned in its 18th consecutive win and 29th victory of the season in the title match to close out a memorable NCAA Tournament run. The third-seeded Blue Devils’ 29 wins is the second most in program history, while its 18-match win streak to close out the year also ranks second.

“[This team] is unbelievably resilient,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “I’m so proud of them. I couldn’t ask for more out of these girls. We grinded out most of the year with six players and you can’t ask for anything more than what they gave every single day at practice and matches. To come through like they did today and beat a great Cal team, it’s just unbelievable.”

Leading 2-0, the Blue Devils looked as if they had control of the match. After taking the first set easily 6-2, Robinson fell behind 4-1 in the second set to Marion Ravelojaona. The senior co-captain dug deep and started to claw her way back into the set and getting back on serve. After tying the match 4-4, the Rehoboth Beach, Del., native took the next two games to make it 3-0 in Duke’s favor.

Just moments later Mang was set for championship point. Looking to serve out the match for the national title, Mang turned in a forehand winner to end the match and give Duke its first national title.

“I had no idea that I was about to clinch the match, so I was surprised when everyone came running up to me,” Mang said.

Mang closes out her season with a 35-7 record and a winner in all four of her NCAA Tournament matches. Her 35 wins is a career-best as she closes out her career with 106 singles wins.

The Blue Devils championship effort began by capturing the crucial doubles point. Similar to the semifinal match, Duke fell behind early, but rallied to come back and take two of the three doubles matches.

The No. 3 pair of Reka Zsilinszka and Ellah Nze stepped on the court confident and raced to an early lead. They rode the momentum to an 8-4 win. Looking to clinch the match, the second doubles tandem of Mallory Cecil and Jessi Robinson battled hard and earned a break midway through the match. They built on the lead to earn an 8-5 win for the 1-0 overall lead.

Looking to carry the energy from doubles to singles, Duke jumped all over the Bears. The Blue Devils took five first sets, losing just six games overall on the four courts.

Granson blanked Bojana Bobusic in the opening set 6-0 to set the tone at No. 4. Mang and Zsilinszka did much of the same with their first sets 6-1 to put Duke ahead on three courts in the early going.

Zsilinszka rolled through her second set as well to take No. 3 singles 6-1, 6-2 over Mari Andersson. The win was her fifth in NCAA Tournament action and her 16th consecutive on the year. She heads into the singles tournament with a 38-7 overall record.

The national championship is the first for the women’s tennis program and the 10th for Duke overall. The other nine Duke national titles came in men’s soccer (1986), men’s basketball (1991, 1992, 2001) and women’s golf (1999, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007).