After smooth run to NCAA doubles final, UGA’s Herring and Kowase downed hard by Alabama

Maho Kowase turned towards the crowd and offered a sheepish smile with nothing going right for Georgia after dropping the first four games of their NCAA women’s doubles finals Monday.

“I was like, ‘Give me something,’” Kowase said.

Many of the Bulldogs fans behind court one at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex stood up and offered encouraging cheers and Kowase and Lauren Herring responded by winning the next game.

That was about the only highlight for the Bulldogs’ second-seeded duo in a 6-1, 6-0 thumping by No. 4 seeded Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe of Alabama.

“It was so short and sweet, I guess,” Kowase said after dabbing her eyes in a towel after the final match of her collegiate career.  

It was certainly sweet for Alabama’s Jansen and Routliffe, who celebrated the Crimson Tide’s first tennis championship of any kind.

“It means so much to us to bring home the first one and hopefully there’s many more to come,” Jansen said.

Routliffe is a freshman from Ontario who was an under-18 Canadian national doubles winner. Jansen is a sophomore from Valleyford, Wash., who turns 20 on Tuesday.

“I guess in sports terms, you’d have to say they pitched a no-hitter,” Georgia coach Jeff Wallace said.

The Crimson Tide duo needed only 51 minutes to win the championship.

The men’s doubles finals went to the other extreme.

No. 2 seed Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese of Tennessee beat No. 4 seed Peter Kobelt and Kevin Metka of Ohio State 7-6, 6-7, 7-6(6).

Herring and Kowase were 50-6 all-time in doubles against everybody except the Alabama duo, which beat the Georgia pair 8-3 in two previous meetings this season.

“For some reason we always seem to struggle against them and (Monday) the moment kind of got to us,” said Herring a junior from Greensboro, N.C., who was the Southeastern Conference player of the year. “Especially early, and then it kind of went downhill from them.”

Georgia reached the doubles finals for the fifth time in program history, but has yet to win.

Other Georgia finalists: Nadja Gilchrist/Chelsey Gullickson (2012), Marissa Catlin/Lori Grey (2000), Vanessa Castellano/Catlin (1999) and Michelle Anderson/Catlin (1997).

“It’s nice we’ve been able to get to five finals,” said Wallace, whose team won the SEC tournament title in April and lost in the quarterfinals as the No. 1 seed. “The other four have been pretty competitive matches.”

The second set began with Alabama’s Routliffe serving and the Tide quickly winning the first game in four points.

Trailing 3-0 in the second set, Herring had a chance at the net on the first point but smashed it wide and the Crimson Tide won another game in rapid fashion when Herring hit the last point of the game into the net on a volley.

“I was seeming to hit the buildings and the stands and not the court,” Herring said. “It was weird. I’ve played in situations like this before and it hasn’t quite gotten to me like this and I don’t know why today of all days I chose to play like this. I kind of feel bad for Maho, but I guess at the end of the day it’s just a tennis match and they played really, really well.”

The Crimson Tide won 49 of 64 points in the match.

“We were really concentrating on every point, working really hard to get it,” Jansen said. “We both served well, returned well and we moved so well. It’s nice that this came at this time.”

Jansen called it one of the Tide duo’s better matches this season.

“We didn’t look like we looked the last few days, that’s for sure,” Wallace said, “but they’ve had a heck of a year and an unbelievable season and Maho has had such an amazing career. It’s tough to see her in her last match go down like that. What an amazing person and what an amazing career.”

Kowase, from Japan, finished her career as the winningest player in Georgia women’s tennis history with a 245-60 record in doubles and singles. She also received NCAA, SEC and UGA sportsmanship awards.

She called her time at Georgia “the best four years of my life,” and it’s not over. After an internship in California, she will return to Athens for graduate school in sports management.

“Maho has been unbelievable,” Herring said her voice cracking with emotion and with watery eyes. “She’s such a good teammate to have so it’s going to be hard not having her next year.”

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