UCLA, North Carolina reach NCAA women’s tennis final

No women’s tennis programs have more national team titles than Stanford and Florida.

North Carolina and UCLA on Monday were roadblocks for them adding to their championship haul this year after the Tar Heels and Bruins earned NCAA finals spots.

No. 7-seeded North Carolina can claim its first ever national title in Tuesday’s 1 p.m. match against No. 5 UCLA at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

The Tar Heels defeated No. 11 Stanford, owner of 17 national titles, including last year, 4-3 in one semifinal.

UCLA will try for its second national championship after a 4-0 win against No. 8 Florida, winners of six NCAA championships including in 2011 and 2012.

The Tar Heels are already in rare air.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever gotten to the finals and the first time in my history beating Stanford,” North Carolina coach Brian Kalbas said. “They’re kind of a program that’s been there and done that and we know that to get to a championship level we have to go through Stanford. To do it was just an amazing accomplishment for our team.”

North Carolina and Stanford, playing on the McWhorter Courts, came down to a matchup of two of the top players in the women’s college game: No. 1 ranked Jamie Loeb of the Tar Heels vs. No. 3 ranked Kristie Ahn of Stanford.

Ahn won the first set tiebreaker, but was blitzed from there in a 6-7(4), 6-0, 6-0 victory for Loeb, a freshman from Ossining, N.Y.

“By the end, Jamie was just pretty unconscious,” Stanford coach Lele Forood said.

The only other time she has clinched a match came in the ITA national indoors on Feb. 9 against Georgia in Virginia.

“This match had a lot more at stake,” Loeb said. “I knew if I kept my composure, which I did the whole match, I’d slowly break her down and conserve my energy, and I think at the end of the match she was hurting a little bit, but physically I felt fine.”

The top four seeds were bounced from the tournament on Saturday, leaving No. 5 UCLA as the highest remaining seed.

UCLA had a relatively easy time with the Gators on the Henry Fied Stadium, especially compared to North Carolina’s battle with Stanford.

There was plenty of Tar Heel blue in the stands as North Carolina grabbed the doubles point, but Stanford had a fast start in singles, winning the first set on four of the six courts.

“It’s tough when you lose the doubles points finding four singles against any top team,” Forood said. “As it goes we found three and we couldn’t find the fourth.”

The Tar Heels led 2-0 when freshman Hayley Carter, the No. 5 ranked singles player, cruised past Krista Hardeback 6-2, 6-1 in No. 2 singles, but Stanford won at No. 4 singles when Taylor Davidson knocked off Whitney Kay 6-3, 6-2.

North Carolina made it 3-1 when Caroline Price, daughter of former Georgia Tech and NBA star Mark Price, won at No. 3 against Carol Zhao, but Stanford knotted the match with a 6-2, 6-3 victory at No. 6 by Carolina Doyle over Tessa Lyons and a  6-2, 7-6(4) win by Ellen Tsay against Kate Vialle at No. 5, but Loeb ended the run.

The doubles point was a barnburner between UCLA and Florida.

Courts 1 and 2 were both in tiebreakers at the same time that Court 3 was tied in doubles.

UCLA’s Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips prevailed against Sofie Oyen and Belinda Woolcock 8-7 (5) and moments later Robin Anderson and Jennifer Brady 8-7(5) held off Alexandra Cercone and Kourtney Keegan 8-7(5).

“Winning that doubles point was a big point in the whole match,” UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster said. “We came out just a little tight in the doubles and once we won that doubles point I think our team came out in singles just really aggressive and played some really good tennis.”

UCLA won the first set on five of six courts.

“They really took it to us early and it was downhill for them and uphill for us from the very, very first ball,” Florida coach Roland Thornqvist said.

The Bruins made it 3-0 when Brady won 6-1, 6-1 on Court 2 against Olivia Janowicz and Anderson beat Brianna Morgan 6-1, 6-3 on Court 1.

Florida, which upset No. 1 Georgia on Saturday in the quarterfinals, didn’t give in, though, making the Bruins work for it to get the clincher from No. 6 singles player Kaitlin Ray, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 over Kourtney Keegan.

Ray hadn’t played in the NCAAs the past two years due to injuries, including in the 2012 final in Athens when UCLA lost 4-0 to Florida.

“I think every experience makes you stronger and even so I didn’t get to experience that as a player. We all know what that feels like to lose in the finals,” said Ray, a junior from Little Rock, Ark. “That will definitely fuel us.

The Bruins won the national title in 2008 and have been runner-up six times.

“We’ve been to a few finals and we haven’t played North Carolina this year,” said Webster. “I need to kind of really look at their lineup, who our players will be playing and just prepare them for another big match. It’s the finals now so there’s going to be a lot of emotion. Just really want our players to enjoy the moment, enjoy the day and to embrace everything about it.”

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