GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinal match ended in heartbreak for Florida women’s tennis, as the No. 15 Gators fell just short of upsetting No. 6 and top-seeded Texas A&M, 4-3.
The matchup with Texas A&M (29-1, 13-0 SEC) came down to the very last point in the premiere match of the tournament thus far. At the beginning of the match, doubles competition was everything one would expect in the semifinal round of the SEC Tournament. The Aggies took the early lead with a strong performance on court one, as the No. 3 pair of Tatiana Makarova and Jayci Goldsmith defeated Florida’s (19-6, 10-3 SEC) No. 28 McCartney Kessler and Alicia Dudeney6-1.
Florida wasn’t finished yet, however, as the duo of Bente Spee and Marlee Zein picked-up a ranked victory over No. 47 Carson Branstine and Mary Stoiana. The Gators wasted no time in developing a lead, racing out to a 4-1 advantage before taking the match, 6-3.
With all eyes on court three, one of the best doubles matches of the tournament was taking place. The Gators team of Carly Briggs and Emma Shelton were in a battle with Gianna Pielet and Renee McBryde, exchanging punches early before taking a 5-3 lead late in the set. The Aggies clawed their way back into the match, eventually taking a 6-5 lead, but Florida forced the tiebreaker after tying the match at six.
Briggs and Shelton got three quick points to begin the tiebreaker, 3-0, putting themselves in strong position for a victory. Texas A&M came back with a force, though, ending the match on a 7-1 run to claim the match and the doubles point for the opposition.
The Aggies extended their lead early in singles competition, taking court one in straight sets. No. 15 Carson Branstine did what very few have been able to do during the year, defeating No. 11 Kessler: 6-0, 6-3, to extend their lead to 2-0.
Their lead didn’t last for long. Within minutes of each other, Shelton and Sara Dahlstrom both picked-up victories to even the match at two. Shelton finished the job first on court six, taking down Katya Townsend in back-to-back sets: 6-4, 6-3, to give Florida their first point of the day.
Dahlstrom built on that momentum on court five, battling in a tough matchup with Pielet to a 6-4 opening set victory. The sophomore found another gear in the second frame, however, blitzing the Aggie 6-0 to secure the match victory and even the team score.
The opposition retook the lead at 3-2, courtesy of Jayci Goldsmith at the four singles slot. Briggs was put on the defensive quickly, dropping the first set, 2-6, and finding herself down 2-5 in the second set. The junior didn’t give up, however, fighting back to tie the match at five all. Both remaining games came down to the wire, but Goldsmith managed to hold-off the surging Briggs for a 7-5 set and match victory.
Looking for revenge against the Aggies, freshman Dudeney was on a mission inside Linder Stadium. The freshman faced a tall-task against No. 70 Stoiana, but wasn’t intimidated. Instead, the freshman opened up the match with a 6-3 set win and, after gaining a 4-3 lead in the second, secured a Gators point with another 6-3 win.
Dudeney’s victory once again tied the match, this time a three, forcing a winner-take-all scenario on court two for No. 72 Zein. The senior and No. 20 Makarova found themselves in a highly-contested opening frame. Zein, who managed to battle back from a deficit early, forced a tiebreaker at six. She trailed 2-4 to begin the tiebreaker, but again fought to pull back even at 5-5. Makarova managed to withstand the rally, taking a 7-5 win and 7-6 first set victory.
The two continued their intensity into the second set, swinging to a 2-2 stalemate early. After a brief timeout to attend to Zein on the sidelines, Makarova put together a string of games to win the match for the top-seeded Aggies, 6-3.
Florida will now have just under two weeks to prepare for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, scheduled to begin on May 6.
No. 15 Carson Branstine (TAMU) def. No. 11 McCartney Kessler: 6-0, 6-3
No. 20 Tatiana Makarova (TAMU) def. No. 72 Marlee Zein: 7-6 (5), 6-3
Alicia Dudeney def. No. 70 Mary Stoiana (TAMU): 6-3, 6-3
Jayci Goldsmith (TAMU) def. Carly Briggs: 6-2, 7-5
Sara Dahlstrom def. Gianna Pielet (TAMU): 6-4, 6-0
Emma Shelton def. Katya Townsend (TAMU): 6-3, 6-4
Order of Finish: 1, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
No. 3 Tatiana Makarova / Jayci Goldsmith (TAMU) def. No 28 Alicia Dudeney/McCartney Kessler
Bente Spee/ Marlee Spee def. No. 47 Carson Branstine / Mary Stoiana (TAMU): 6-3
Gianna Pielet / Renee McBryde (TAMU) def. Carly Briggs/Emma Shelton: 7-6 (4)
Order of Finish: 1, 2, 3
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