AUBURN, Ala. -- The Arizona State women's tennis team may have been down early, but they weren't out as they came back to defeat No. 35 North Carolina State 4-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon.
"First off, I’d like to congratulate North Carolina State – they’ve had a really good year and gave us everything we could take today," said head coach Sheila McInerney. "It was a match that a few points here or there, it could have gone either way. Happy to come away with the win and proud of our kids for battling really well. Nothing is easy and knew it wouldn’t be."
The No. 23 Sun Devils lost just the fourth doubles point all season in their 23 matches, and it was the first time they came from behind to win after losing that first point this year.
“It was a little concerning because we’ve won 19 of 22 doubles matches this season, and there is a lot of luck that goes into that with the no ad-scoring," said McInerney. "Every time we’ve lost the doubles match, we’ve lost. So you’re not sure how the kids will respond, but I thought we responded really well. I think that makes us stronger for tomorrow’s match."
McInerney expressed how relying on that first doubles point can be a trap, as there are still six points still left to be had in singles. Despite the Pac-12 Champions and No. 15-ranked pair of Ebony Panoho and Alex Osborne losing a tough one on court one, the Devils never waivered and turned the page as singles began.
Freshman Sammi Hampton wasted no time in her match with NC State's Amanda Rebol, cruising to a 6-0 victory in the first set. As the second began, Rebol rebounded for a 2-0 lead to start, but it wouldn't last long. Hampton got right back into the match and eventually clinched it with a 6-4 win in the second as her counterparts were just starting their second set.
While Panoho didn't get the results she wanted in doubles, it only fueled the fire as she entered her match with Biana Moldovan. She got up early but Moldovan battled back to knot it up at 5-all. Panoho finished strong for the 7-5 victory and never trailed again, going up 4-0 in the second before eventually taking the set and match with a 6-1 win in the second set for the sweep. The Devils officially had their first and all-important lead.
At that point, blood was in the water and junior Kassidy Jump continued to feed off it after dropping the first set to Joanna Nalborska, 7-5. Jump had what seemed to be a comfortable lead in the first, but Nalborska rallied back to take the first. "Fist Pump" Jump did a lot of it in the second and third, as she took a lead in the second and never looked back. She rallied to win the match 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 and put ASU on the edge of clinching the overall match.
The question became not if anymore but who, as No. 35 Desirae Krawczyk was turning heads and attracting eyes on court one after her unbelievable rally in the first set after going down 4-1 to No. 45 Martina Frantova. She battled back to knot it up at 5-all and eventually win the first 7-6. By the time Jump clinched, she had a 4-3 lead in the second.
On court four, senior Stephanie Vlad split the first two sets with NC State's Claudia Wiktorin 6-4, 3-6 and was tied 2-2 in the third.
But on court six was captain clutch. The one that clinched the Sun Devil tennis program's second-ever victory over Stanford earlier this year. Most people know her by Gussie "The Grinder" O'Sullivan. The Australian not only trailed in the first set, but also in the second. It was nothing "The Grinder" couldn't handle, as she battled back to win the first set 6-4. Then while on the brink of losing the second down 4-5, she won three-straight points to clinch the set, her match and send the Devils to the second round.
"We have a saying, ‘If it’s going to be, it’s up to me,'" said McInerney. "No matter what, you have to get to four points to win. You have to do it somehow. The kids embraced that."
The Sun Devils will play the winner of No. 11 Auburn and Alcorn State on Saturday at 1 p.m. CT/11 a.m. AZ. The match can be viewed or followed with live scoring here.