May 31, 2010

By Andy Johnston
Special to

ATHENS, Ga. - When Georgia's Chelsey Gullickson saw the final shot hit the net, she could only double over in relief and disbelief.

It took a few moments before she fully realized that she had just won the 2010 NCAA Division I singles championship.

"I still can't believe it," Gullickson said. "When she hit that swinging volley into the net, I just kind of sat there and said, `Oh, my gosh. This isn't happening.' I'm so excited. It's just so amazing."

Gullickson became Georgia's first NCAA women's singles champion since 1994 when she defeated California's Jana Juricova 6-3, 7-6 (7) on Monday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

The victory capped a turbulent sophomore season that started with Gullickson ranked No. 2 in the nation before three early losses pushed her out of the Top 10.

She entered the tournament ranked 12th and defeated the Nos. 7, 4, 2 and 1 seeds in her final four matches for Georgia's third NCAA singles title, joining Lisa Spain (1984) and Angela Lettiere (1994).

Gullickson, who lost in the semifinals as a freshman in 2009, won all six of this year's matches in two sets and finished the season 30-8.

"It's nice to see her coming back in her second year here at home and beating all the best players in the country and capturing the national title," Georgia coach Jeff Wallace said. "I'm very proud of her. It's very exciting."

It appeared the championship match might go to three sets when Juricova grabbed a 4-2 lead in the second set, but Gullickson tied the match at 4-4. In the tiebreaker, Juricova tied it at 7-7 on a backhand winner before Gullickson won the final two points, first hitting a winner and then watching as Juricova sent what appeared to be a sure point into the net.

It was Juricova's first loss in 20 matches and she finished the season 44-7.

"She's a great player," said Juricova, who won the 2009 doubles title with Mari Andersson. "I'm just proud that I did my best. It's all I could do. I had a ton of fun. I had my chances, but I just couldn't complete it. Now I know what I need to work on next season."

Gullickson said she doesn't plan on turning pro this summer, but hopes to play in several pro tournaments. She'll also continue to train and prepare for Georgia's fall season.

"I feel like coming into this tournament I didn't have as much confidence that I hoped I could have had, but Jeff and [assistant coach] Frank [Polito] believed in me throughout this whole year," Gullickson said. "They gave me so much confidence, and after we lost in [the team tournament], I just came out and worked really hard and tried to stay positive each and every day through the singles tournament. I feel like the struggles I went through with the team this season definitely made me grow on and off the court. It made me stronger."

DOUBLES: The second-seeded team of Stanford's Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette defeated Tennessee's top-seeded Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey 7-5, 4-6, 6-0 after finishing second last year.

"It was pretty bitter being on the other end last year, so I think it makes this year sweeter," Barte said.

It was the ninth doubles match in 12 days for Barte and Burdette, who led Stanford to the team title on May 25, the night when Burdette became a YouTube sensation when she hit and tackled younger sister Mallory after match point.

There were no plans for a repeat performance, but Barte was prepared.

"I was ready to outrun her," she said.

It was the second victory in three meetings this season between the Stanford duo and Pluskota and Whoriskey.

"Stanford really buckled down in the third set," Whoriskey said. "They made us hit great shots and didn't give up many free points. We weren't able to hold our serve in response and couldn't keep up."