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March 2, 2008

COLUMBIA, S.C. — It took nearly five and a half hours, but the end result for the South Carolina women’s tennis team was a 4-3 victory against No. 14 Vanderbilt on Sunday at Maxcy Gregg Tennis Center in Columbia, S.C. For the Gamecocks (7-2, 1-1 SEC), it was the highest ranked team they have beaten since 2005 when they downed the same Commodores (7-2, 0-2 SEC) 5-2 in Nashville, Tenn., when Vandy was ranked No. 5.

The Gamecocks played their best doubles of the season, winning the point with ease. Their teams on courts one and three nearly finished simultaneously to put Carolina on top 1-0 heading to singles. Suzanna Mansour and Megan McGavock beat Caroline Ferrell and Keilly Ulery 8-3 at three to finish just a couple seconds ahead of Gira Schofield and Ana Marija Zubori, 8-2 winners against Taka Bertrand and Catherine Newman.

On court two, South Carolina’s Miljana Jocic and Natasa Vuckovic dropped the first two games before coming back to eventually tie the score at 4-4. Jocic and Vuckovic managed to win an exhausting ninth game to keep the match on serve and broke Amanda Taylor and Courtney Ulery in the next game to lead 6-4. The Vandy duo, though, mounted a comeback of its own and claimed the next four games for an 8-6 triumph.

The singles matches were much more competitive. Bertrand tied the match after defeating Jocic 6-1, 6-2 on court four, but Vuckovic answered for South Carolina at three singles with an upset against No. 48-ranked Courtney Ulery 6-2, 7-6(6). When Vuckovic’s match went into a tiebreaker, the first and second singles matches were actually in a first-set tiebreaker as well.

Zubori and No. 43 Newman’s match-up at two singles reached the breaker first. Newman took a 5-2 lead, but Zubori, ranked 56th, charged back to make it 5-5. Newman ended up winning the next two points, though, to grab the first set.

Schofield and 29th-rated Taylor entered a tiebreaker at No. 1 singles soon after Zubori and Newman did. Schofield, currently No. 35 in the nation, had set points at 6-4, 6-5 and 7-6, but it was Taylor who fought her way to a 9-7 victory.

Keilly Ulery added to the Commodores’ point total after dispatching Jelena Rajic at the fifth spot 6-2, 7-5. Vanderbilt then took a 3-2 advantage following Ferrell’s 6-4, 7-6(3) decision over McGavock on court six.

By the time McGavock and Ferrell’s match ended, Zubori had won the second set against Newman 6-2 and the two were tied 3-all in the third. Schofield, meanwhile, was serving up 5-4 in the second and after getting the advantage on the fourth deuce, she hit a deep lob that clipped the line and backed Taylor up to the fence to the point where she could barely even get her racket on the ball.

Zubori moved ahead of Newman 5-3 within minutes after Schofield forced a third set. Serving up 5-4, Zubori took a 40-15 lead on her serve, but fatigue was starting to set in and she was unable to close out the match in that game. She stayed tough, however, and broke Newman at love to lead 6-5 heading to the 12th game of the set. Zubori went ahead 40-love in the next game and eventually outlasted Newman on the sixth rally.

Schofield and Taylor were tied 2-2 in the third when Zubori knocked off Newman and the two remained tied 5-5, but it was not easy for Schofield to get there. In the 10th game, she was down 15-40 and figured out a way to fight off three match points to continue the contest. After breaking Taylor’s serve, Schofield had an opportunity to serve out the match, but Taylor responded with a break to force another tiebreaker.

“To get back (in the 10th game), I just tried to focus on my footwork and not the situation,” Schofield said. “I did that so I wouldn’t get nervous. I kept telling myself I’ve been here before and I can do this.”

In the breaker, Schofield forced a tiring Taylor to play long points and it worked to perfection. Schofield won the first point and never let her opponent tie the score. When Taylor pulled to within 5-4, Schofield served out the match and was greeted by her ecstatic teammates at the net to celebrate the victory.

“I was overwhelmed when it ended,” Schofield said. “It was such a great feeling, to win something that way for the team. It was awesome.”

South Carolina hits the road for its next two SEC matches, first playing at Georgia on Friday and then at Tennessee on Sunday. The Gamecocks’ next home match is scheduled for Friday, March 21, against Mississippi State at 2 p.m.

#30 South Carolina (7-2, 1-1 SEC) def. #14 Vanderbilt (7-2, 0-2 SEC), 4-3

1. #35 Gira Schofield, USC, def. #29 Amanda Taylor, VU, 6-7(7), 6-4, 7-6(4)
2. #56 Ana Marija Zubori, USC, def. #43 Catherine Newman, VU, 6-7(5), 6-2, 7-5
3. Natasa Vuckovic, USC, def. #48 Courtney Ulery, VU, 6-2, 7-6(6)
4. Taka Bertrand, VU, def. Miljana Jocic, USC, 6-1, 6-2
5. Keilly Ulery, VU, def. Jelena Rajic, USC, 6-2, 7-5
6. Caroline Ferrell, VU, def. Megan McGavock, USC, 6-4, 7-6(3)

Order of Finish: 4, 3, 5, 6, 2, 1

1. #17 Schofield/Zubori, USC, def. #33 Bertrand/Newman, VU, 8-2
2. Taylor/C. Ulery, VU, def. Jocic/Vuckovic, USC, 8-6
3. Suzanna Mansour/McGavock, USC, def. Ferrell/K. Ulery, VU, 8-3

Order of Finish: 3, 1, 2