In its first-round match against Elon in the NCAA Championships Friday, the No. 1 Georgia women’s tennis team played like it had somewhere else to be.
Actually, three of Georgia’s seniors did want to make it to Georgia’s graduation ceremony later in the evening at Sanford Stadium, and Lilly Kimbell, Kate Fuller and Maho Kowase took charge as they each won their singles matches to lead the Bulldogs to a 4-0 victory at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex over No. 75 Elon, which was making its inaugural NCAA tournament appearance.
“It was funny how it ended up being the seniors who won the singles matches,” Fuller, who defeated Maria Camara Ruiz 6-0, 6-2 at No. 5 singles, said. “We were trying to get to graduation.”
Kimbell was first off the court with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Barbora Lazarova at No. 4 singles. She was followed by Fuller, and Kowase clinched the victory with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Bryn Khoury at No. 3 singles.
“My parents are here for graduation all the way from Japan,” Kowase said. “It’s probably the last time they’ll get to see me play here, so I was so happy I got to finish.”
Georgia (22-4) defeated Elon (16-8) in late January, and while the stakes were much higher this time around, the song remained the same.
“I thought we played really well,” Georgia coach Jeff Wallace said. “We’ve been practicing pretty hard and it’s been a long break, so it’s nice to get back on the competition courts. For the first one, you never know what it’s going to be like after a long break but we came out and played well all day long. It was especially exciting to see the three seniors get the three singles wins.”
The Bulldogs — who have won 18 of their last 20 matches — will square off at 4 p.m. today against No. 37 Florida State (16-12), which defeated Arizona State 4-3 in a match that lasted just a shade under four hours.
Georgia began doubles play on the lower courts while the match between Florida State and Arizona continued on the upper courts. In fact, the Bulldogs captured the doubles point before the Seminoles’ Daneika Borthwick defeated Arizona’s Kim Stubbe 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 to give Florida State the victory.
Although it’s unusual to start a match in “the pit,” Georgia was not the least bit rattled about the slight move in locale.
“It was kind of fun to play down there,” Fuller said. “But the FSU-Arizona match was going on so long that they didn’t want to make us wait another hour for the last match to finish. We usually don’t get shifted down here, but in this tournament you never know what’s going to happen when multiple matches are going on. But that’s kind of the fun of the tournament. We get delayed, but it kind of builds the excitement a little bit.”
“It wasn’t unsettling,” Wallace added. “I thought it was a good idea. Florida State and Arizona were in a battle and I thought it was a great match. The courts were open and it was 4 p.m. and we got a great grandstand, so we thought let’s put it to use and use these courts to get our match started on time. We’ve done this before. The pit is the pit and we love playing in the pit — it’s still home.”
It took the Bulldogs all of 37 minutes to claim the doubles point. The team of Lauren Herring and Kowase — ranked No. 2 in the country — came off first with an 8-2 victory over Jordan Johnston and Lazarova at No. 1, and Kimbell and Caroline Brinson took the point with an 8-2 win Khoury and Taylor Casey at No. 3.
At No. 2 doubles, Fuller and Silvia Garcia were up 6-4, 6-1 when the match ended.
Notes: Georgia took 6-0, 6-0 victories in the first set on four courts. … Georgia’s Herring led Johnston 6-0, 5-2 at No. 1 and Mia King led Tolley Rice 6-0, 5-1 when the Bulldogs clinched the match. … This is the Bulldogs’ 28th consecutive appearance in the NCAAs; California has the longest active streak at 33. … Georgia improved to 68-25 in the tournament. … In the first and second rounds of the NCAAs, Georgia is 25-0 in the 13 times it has played host.