Gibbs, Christian, Santamaria shine for Pac-12 in NCAAs
URBANA, Ill. -- The Pac-12 seems to have a hold on the collegiate women’s tennis world. After Stanford claimed the 2013 NCAA team title, Nicole Gibbs won her second individual title in a row for the Cardinal and duo Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria claimed the doubles crown for Southern California.
Gibbs defeated Nebraska’s Mary Weatherholt 6-2, 6-4 for the title on Monday, becoming the fifth female player in NCAA history to win back-to-back titles. Aside from Gibbs, three of those players were from Stanford.
“It’s amazing to join the very elite club of people who have won two titles, and I don’t feel deserving,” Gibbs said.
Christian and Santamaria also made history, becoming the first Trojan doubles team to win a doubles title after they defeated UCLA’s Skylar Morton and Robin Anderson 6-4, 6-3. USC has not won a tennis crown of any type since 1985.
“[Morton and Anderson] are definitely a respectable team, one of the best in the country. We knew they were gunning for us and we knew that it would be a great match. If we just stayed solid and positive with each other, the outcome would take care of itself,” Christian said.
Despite the fact that Gibbs was the reigning singles champion and Christian and Santamaria swept every large doubles tournament this year (they won the All-American, ITA Indoor and Pac-12 doubles titles), they didn’t know exactly what to expect coming into the championship matches.
“I am still a little shocked. This season has carried a lot of adversity for me. I haven’t been dominant throughout, so having this dominant performance here has been a big surprise and a welcomed one,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs had never played Weatherholt before and was nervous about coming into the match somewhat blinded.
“It was a little bit unsettling to play such a dark horse on such a big stage,” Gibbs said of Weatherholt. “I scouted her a little bit and was watching how she was winning her points.”
Both Gibbs and Weatherholt were shaken in the second set when Weatherholt strained her right knee, causing a timeout. When play resumed, Gibbs faltered, allowing Weatherholt to gain precious points.
“I was a little bit concerned about her when she went down. She’s a very nice girl and a very good competitor,” Gibbs said. “I told myself to focus and play like she hadn’t been injured and to get the next couple of points.”
Santamaria and Christian also faced adversity, knowing that Morton and Anderson would be hungry for revenge after defeating them in the All-American semifinals earlier in the season. However, the Trojan duo used their unique positioning on the court to seal the victory.
“They have an unorthodox style. Sabrina [Santamaria] stays in the back and just pushes and Kaitlyn [Chistian] runs around and tags every ball [at the net],” Morton said.
“We started playing doubles together my freshman year and [the positioning] just flowed. We never thought, ‘Ok, this is what we’re going to do’. It just happened,” Santamaria said.
Now that the NCAA tournaments are over, all three Pac-12 women have big plans for the summer. Gibbs plans on going to the Wimbledon qualifiers and trying to go pro. She plans to finish up her degree in the fall at Stanford, depending on how her qualifiers go.
Christian and Santamaria qualified to play in the U.S. Open this summer and hope that their success from this year continues.
“I feel blessed to have the best doubles partner in the world, the best doubles player in the country by my side,” Santamaria said.
The Trojan duo also has high hopes for their team in the tournament next year.
“We have such great teammates, hopefully this will set us up for team success next year,” Christian said.