Courtesy of Yale Sports Publicity
STANFORD, Calif. -- The NCAA tournament run for the No. 29 Yale women's tennis team came to an end Saturday afternoon in the second round at Taube Family Tennis Stadium, as No. 5 Stanford beat the Bulldogs 4-0.
No. 29 Yale (20-4) had a 10-match winning streak coming into Saturday, including Friday's 4-0 win over Saint Mary's (Calif.) in the first round that represented the first NCAA Tournament shutout win in program history.
But Stanford (20-1) had momentum of its own, as its lone loss this season came nearly a month ago. The Cardinal was able to negate one of Yale's strength by taking the doubles point, just the second time in 24 matches Yale has lost doubles.
On a sunny, hot afternoon at Taube, the Bulldogs got off to a good start in doubles with early breaks at No. 1 and No. 2. But Stanford had an answer. At No. 1, senior Vicky Brook and freshman Amber Li (ranked No. 72 in the country) were facing the Cardinal's Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs, who were 16-1 at No. 1 doubles and seeded No. 2 in the upcoming NCAA doubles championship. The Stanford duo broke Yale in the fourth game to tie the match at 2-2, then reeled off wins in six of the next seven for an 8-3 victory.
That put the pressure on Yale's No. 2 and No. 3 doubles teams. At No. 2, an early 3-1 lead slipped away for junior Elizabeth Epstein and sophomore Annie Sullivan. Stanford's Stacey Tan and Ellen Tsay, ranked No. 24 in the country, came up with breaks in the second, eighth and 10th games to overcome Yale's early breaks and take a 7-4 lead.
"I really liked the energy we had at the start of doubles," said Yale head coach Danielle McNamara, who has led Yale to three NCAA Tournaments. "We played well, but Stanford really raised their level, cleaned things up and cut out the errors after things were close early."
Meanwhile, Yale's No. 3 team of senior Steph Kent and sophomore Blair Seideman fell behind 7-0. With the doubles point in jeopardy after the loss at No. 1, the Bulldogs captain Kent held serve to keep her team alive. Yale rallied from a 40-15 deficit in that game to keep that No. 3 match going, with an ace by Kent giving her and Seideman the advantage in their eighth game just as the Bulldogs fell behind 40-0 in the 12th game at No. 2 with the match on the line.
After Kent and Seideman staved off elimination, Epstein and Sullivan did the same, rallying back to deuce in the 12th game while down 7-4.
But with Stanford now serving at 40-15 in the No. 3 match, the Cardinal finally put the Bulldogs away with a match-clinching point for an 8-1 win at No. 3 that gave the Cardinal the doubles point. Stanford has won 16 straight doubles points and 46 straight doubles matches (one by forfeit).
In singles, the Cardinal showcased its strength at the top with three straight-set wins. At No. 1, Gibbs -- ranked No. 3 in the country -- beat Epstein 6-0, 6-1 in the first match to finish. The Bulldogs had dropped the first set at each of the top five spots by that point, quickly putting the match in jeopardy. But at No. 6, Sullivan finished off a 6-3 win in the first set right after Epstein's match ended. That was another sign of progress for the Bulldogs, who had not won any matches in last year's second round loss at then-No. 3 Duke.
It was also a sign of the impact Sullivan has made at the No. 6 spot, as she ends the season with an 18-5 record and a six-match winning streak.
"That shows we are deep," said McNamara. "Annie has come up with some really big wins for us at that spot, including one against [current No. 11] Miami earlier this year."
But shortly after Sullivan's win, No. 5-ranked Mallory Burdette moved Stanford's lead to 3-0 with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Seideman at No. 2. And just moments later, No. 25 Stacey Tan clinched the match with a 6-4, 6-1 win over freshman Hanna Yu.
"Stanford is the best team we've played this season," said McNamara. "In singles, they made it clear what the differences are between us. Now it's just a matter of us going back to work on those things."
Fittingly, Yale's two seniors -- Brook at No. 4 singles and Kent at No. 5 singles -- were still battling when the match ended. While they could not get one more win Saturday, they nonetheless leave with a bevy of accomplishments that include back-to-back Ivy League titles.
"It's sad to see them finish," said McNamara. "They were such a great class and added so much to the program -- and more than just as players. They are great people, and the fact that we have such great team chemistry is in large part due to them."
After meeting with the team on the courts after the match, McNamara expressed optimism for the future of the program. In addition to the Ivy League title, the Bulldogs also won their fourth straight ECAC Indoor Team Championship, and registered an upset 4-3 win at Notre Dame (currently ranked No. 20 in the country).
"There's a lot to be proud of," she said. "We really did make a lot of big jumps this year. Matches like this one against Stanford show us what we need to work on, and motivation to get out there and keep doing what we need to do."
No. 5 Stanford 4, No. 29 Yale 0
1) No. 2 Burdette/Gibbs (STAN) d. No. 72 Brook/Li (YALE) 8-3
2) No. 24 Tan/Tsay (STAN) vs. Epstein/Sullivan (YALE) abandoned
3) Dillon/Li (STAN) d. Kent/Seideman (YALE) 8-1
Order of Finish: 1, 3*
1) No. 3 Nicole Gibbs (STAN) d. Elizabeth Epstein (YALE) 6-0, 6-1
2) No. 5 Mallory Burdette (STAN) d. Blair Seideman (YALE) 6-1, 6-3
3) No. 25 Stacey Tan (STAN) d. Hanna Yu (YALE) 6-4, 6-1
4) No. 74 Ellen Tsay (STAN) vs. Vicky Brook (YALE) abandoned
5) Veronica Li (STAN) vs. Steph Kent (YALE) abandoned
6) Natalie Dillon (STAN) vs. Annie Sullivan (YALE) abandoned
Order of Finish: 1, 2, 3*