Courtesy of Princeton Athletic Communications
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Princeton had Alabama, the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, down to two third sets for a bid to the NCAA Division I Women's Tennis Championship Round of 16.
That's impressive for most any team, let alone one that was not in the Intercollegiate Tennis Associartion's weekly top 75 in early April. But there Princeton was in its eventual 4-2 defeat to the Crimson Tide on Alabama's home courts, less than two months out from being 8-5 on a season that had not yet included any take-notice type of victories.
Since mid-March, however, the Tigers provided plenty of them. After starting 0-4 against ITA-ranked teams, the Tigers won four straight such matches and put a great effort toward a fifth Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Just a day after battling No. 25 Arizona State for five hours on the way to the program's first-ever NCAA tournament match win, Princeton had to return and face an Alabama team that didn't have much trouble advancing past Jackson State in the first round last night.
Alabama did not have much trouble with the doubles point against Princeton either, giving up just three total games in the two matches that were played to completion. As they did yesterday, though, the Tigers shrugged off having to come from behind and focused on the singles matches.
A point for Alabama fell on court six, putting Princeton down 2-0. Then, senior Lindsay Graff won her 11th straight match, beting an ITA-ranked opponent for the third-straight contest in knocking off 65th-ranked Mary Anne Daines 6-4, 6-2. Freshman Alanna Wolff, who provided Friday's clincher, didn't need a third set to beat 93rd-ranked Danielle Spielmann 6-4, 6-3. Wolff, who will play in the NCAA singles tournament beginning May 21, ends the team portion of her season on a seven-match winning streak with back-to-back wins over ITA-ranked opponents.
That put Princeton even with No. 2 Alabama at 2-2, and the prospect of a bracket-shattering upset became all the more possible. Princeton had third sets on court three with Amanda Muliawan and court five with Dorothy Tang, and wins there would send Princeton to Georgia for the NCAA Round of 16. No Ivy League team since Harvard in 2005 had advanced that far.
Though the sophomore Muliawan and the freshman Tang battled, Alabama ended up just a couple games better. Tang's opponent, Emily Zabor, completed a 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 win to clinch the match, while Muliawan's match was suspended at 6-1, 3-6, 3-2 in favor of Alabama's Erin Routliffe, ranked No. 77 in the nation and the SEC Co-Freshman of the Year, once the overall match was clinched.
The loss ended Princeton's postseason run, but it puts a cap on an outstanding season. At 19-6, Princeton reached the NCAA second round with its longest winning streak, at 11 matches, since 2000. The 19 wins were the second-most in program history, behind only the 20-6 record the 2010 team posted the last time Princeton made the NCAA Tournament.
The future looks promising too, with Princeton able to return every player who competed Saturday.
With the hurdle of the first-ever NCAA Tournament match win now surpassed, the next step, the one that came so close to happening this time, will still be out there next time.
#2 Alabama 4, #47 Princeton 2
1. #4 Jansen/Routliffe (UA) def. #67 Graff/Wolf (PU) 8-1
2. #39 Daines/Spielmann (UA) def. Emily Hahn/Muliawan (PU) 8-2
3. Joan Cannon/Tang (PU) vs. #71 Perez/Zabor (UA) 6-3 DNF
Order of Finish: 1,2
1. Lindsay Graff (PU) def. #65 Mary Anne Daines (UA) 6-4, 6-2
2. #94 Alanna Wolff def. #93 Danielle Spielmann (UA) 6-4, 6-3
3. #77 Erin Routliffe (UA) vs. Amanda Muliawan (PU) 6-1, 3-2 DNF
4. #110 Maya Jensen (UA) def. Sivan Krems (PU) 6-3, 6-4
5. Emily Zabor (UA) def. Dorothy Tang (PU) 6-1, 4-6, 6-4
6. #109 Luicelena Perez (UA) def. Katie Goepel (PU) 6-2, 6-3
Order of Finish: 6,1,2,4,5