The No. 1-ranked Emory women's tennis team will play for the NCAA Division III national championship after defeating No. 4 Middlebury 5-4 in an instant classic at the Biszantz Family Tennis Center Tuesday evening in Claremont, Calif.
The Eagles (17-4) advance to face No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, host of the event, in the title match Wednesday evening. The Athenas (29-2) reached the championship match after claiming four of five singles matches to upend Williams 5-3 in the other semifinal match on Tuesday.
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Emory, playing in its sixth consecutive national championship and 13th overall, is in search of its third national title in the last five seasons and eighth in program history. Wednesday will mark Claremont-Mudd-Scripps' first-ever appearance in the national championship in 21 trips to the NCAA tournament. Earlier this season, Emory and CMS squared off in a thrilling match held also at the Biszantz Center with the Eagles pulling out the 5-4 victory.
The national championship is set to get underway at 6 p.m. ET from the Biszantz Family Tennis Center. Fans can track the action with live video and stats links which can be found here.
Bridget Harding with a HUGE win pic.twitter.com/ISltCV5YOk— Emory Women's Tennis (@EmoryWTennis) May 23, 2018
Tuesday's semifinal went down to the wire with the match ultimately being decided at first singles between freshman Ysabel Gonzalez-Rico and Middlebury's Christina Puccinelli. Gonzalez-Rico raced out to a commanding lead with the 6-0 first set win but Puccinelli was able to force a third set with a 6-4 win in the second. In the third set, Gonzalez-Rico claimed four of the first five points before Puccinelli cut the lead to 4-3. But that was as close as the Puccinelli would get as Gonzalez-Rico captured the final two points to seal the victory for the Eagles.
Emory opened the scoring on Tuesday as senior Anna Fuhr and freshman Stephanie Taylor recorded their eighth straight win with an 8-3 decision at second doubles. The lead was short-lived however as the Panthers secured wins at both first and third doubles to head into singles play in front 2-1. Middlebury tied the match with an 8-5 win over Gonzalez-Rico and senior Bridget Harding on court one and took the lead with an 8-4 victory against junior Daniela Lopez and freshman Katie Chang.
The Eagles started strong in singles play with three straight wins to gain a 4-2 edge. Harding and Taylor each registered 6-4, 6-2 victories at second and sixth singles while freshman Defne Olcay added a 6-3, 6-4 win at fifth singles. Middlebury rebounded with straight set wins over Lopez and Fuhr at third and fourth singles, turning all attention to the decisive match on court one where Gonzalez-Rico came through with the win.
Emory improves to 13-6 all-time in NCAA semifinal matches. Ysabel Gonzalez-Rico became just the fifth player in team history to win 30 singles matches in a single season and the first freshman since Jolyn Taylor in 2002-03.