May 28, 2010

By Andy Johnston
Special to

ATHENS, Ga. - This has been a frustrating year for Natalie Pluskota.

The Tennessee sophomore injured her hip in January and didn't play singles this spring. She only recently returned to rejoin doubles partner Caitlin Whoriskey.

Regardless of the injury and missed court time, they entered the doubles at the NCAA Division I Women's Tennis Championships as the nation's top-ranked team.

They're playing like they did before the injury.

Pluskota and Whoriskey moved into the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over DePaul's Anna Redesci and Selma Salkovic on Friday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

"Today was like we were together throughout the fall," Whoriskey said. "The matches before this were like a warmup, to get the rust off a little bit. I think we're in good shape."

The Tennessee tandem will play Florida's Allie Will and Marrit Boonstra, seeded 5-8, in the semifinals. It will be the first time Pluskota will be on the court against Will and Boonstra, but Whoriskey teamed with Maria Sorbello in two matches against them, including an 8-6 victory April 9.

Pluskota was cleared to play doubles this month, and she and Whoriskey almost instantly regained their form and chemistry, improving to 24-2 with Friday's victory.

That second loss happened in the team quarterfinals when Kristy Frilling and Kali Krisik defeated Pluskota and Whoriskey 8-6 as Notre Dame eliminated the Volunteers.

They've recovered well, knocking out Washington's Joyce Ardies and Denise Dy 7-5, 6-1 in the first round.

"I feel like we're close to that point [where they were before the injury], if we're not already there," Pluskota said. "As soon as we got back on the court together, it was like we'd been playing the whole time."

Said Whoriskey: "You just go out there and play like you want to play, and today was another good example of doing just that. We served pretty well. Our groundstrokes were really good. We need to improve on putting away the volleys a little bit, but overall, it was a pretty good day for both of us."

Pluskota grew up in Georgia, but her two brothers were Tennessee football fans, so she signed there and quickly became a fixture in both the singles and doubles lineups as a freshman last year.

"I fell in love with the school because my older brother and my twin brother were obsessed with the football team, so I just did everything they did," Pluskota said.

She had plenty of noticeable support in the stands. Her mother, both brothers and her boyfriend were sporting gray T-shirts with "Team Pluskota" on the back.

They watched as Whoriskey and Pluskota systematically eliminated the DePaul duo. Tennessee led 5-1 and had three match points before a Blue Demons shot went wide to give the Volunteers the victory.

It was the second match of the day for Whoriskey, who was eliminated by eighth-seeded Laura Vallverdu of Miami 6-2, 6-2 in the second round of singles. She's ready to put that defeat behind her and move on in doubles.

"We did what we wanted to do," Whoriskey said. "Nat played a lot of good serves and hit the ball really well off the ground, probably the best I've seen her do that. It was a good day, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow."