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April 23, 2009

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The 22nd-ranked and sixth-seeded South Carolina women’s tennis team (14-9, 6-5 SEC) battled its way past No. 25 and 11th-seeded Kentucky (12-10, 3-8 SEC) on Thursday in the first round of the SEC Tournament by a 4-2 score in Fayetteville, Ark. The Gamecocks next face No. 10-ranked and third-seeded Tennessee (15-5, 8-3 SEC) on Friday at 2:30 p.m. CT.

“We knew coming in this would be a tough match and a real dog fight,which is exactly what it was,” Gamecock head coach Arlo Elkins said. “I’m very proud of our effort and the way we picked it up after a slow start in singles. We are really looking forward to a competitive match with Tennessee tomorrow.”

Like the regular-season meeting between the two squads, South Carolina won the doubles point by claiming positions one and two. Natasa Vuckovic and Ana Marija Zubori won first at the top spot by an 8-4 count against Carolina Escamilla and Caroline Lilley. Gira Schofield and Miljana Jocic clinched the point at two with an 8-6 triumph over Megan Broderick and Christine Johnston.

The Wildcats’ duo of Lauren Meier and Whitney Spencer led Suzanna Mansour and Dijana Stojic 7-5 at No. 3 doubles when South Carolina had clinched the point.

South Carolina got off to a slow start in singles play, trailing on five of six courts after a few games had been played. Kentucky won four first sets on the six courts, but the Gamecocks forced a third set on three of them to make for an exciting match.

Spencer evened the score at 1-all after taking care of Mansour 6-2, 6-0 at the No. 6 position, but Vuckovic struck back for South Carolina on court four with a 6-2, 6-2 victory against Johnston to put Carolina back on top. With the victory, Vuckovic took over sole possession of fourth place on the school’s all-time list for singles victories with 95.

Schofield put the Gamecocks within a point of clinching the match by upending Escamilla 6-3, 6-3 at the No. 1 position. It was the 20th singles victory of the season for the senior, marking her third 20-win season in four years with the team. One more singles win will allow Schofield to crack the school’s top-10 list, which requires at least 86.

Broderick came through for Kentucky at the second slot with a 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-0 win over Zubori. Zubori missed out on several set points in the first before coming back to win the second. It was just the sixth loss of the season for Zubori and only her fourth of the spring at No. 2 singles.

The remaining two matches on courts three and five were well into the third set once Broderick snagged her victory. Jocic raced ahead of Lilley 4-1 in the third after losing the first set 6-4 and winning the second 6-1. Stojic lost the first set to Meier in a tiebreaker 7-1 but cruised to a 6-2 victory in the second.

Stojic proved to be the deciding match for South Carolina. After going ahead 4-2, Meier came back to win two straight games, but Stojic held serve to grab a 5-4 lead at the changeover. Stojic then broke Meier to propel South Carolina into the quarterfinals.

Jocic held a 5-2 lead in the third with Lilley serving at 0-15 when play was stopped.

Thursday’s match was played indoors due to sustained winds exceeding 25 mph.

#22 South Carolina (14-9, 6-5 SEC) def. #25 Kentucky (12-10, 3-8 SEC), 4-2

1. #46 Gira Schofield, USC, def. Carolina Escamilla, UK, 6-3, 6-3
2. Megan Broderick, UK, def. #43 Ana Marija Zubori, USC, 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-0
3. Dijana Stojic, USC, def. Lauren Meier, UK, 6-7(1), 6-2, 6-4
4. Natasa Vuckovic, USC, def. Christine Johnston, UK, 6-2, 6-2
5. Miljana Jocic, USC, vs. Caroline Lilley, UK, 4-6, 6-1, 5-2 suspended
6. Whitney Spencer, UK, def. Suzanna Mansour, USC, 6-2, 6-0

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

1. #37 Vuckovic/Zubori, USC, def. #36 Escamilla/Lilley, UK, 8-4
2. Jocic/Schofield, USC, def. Broderick/Johnston, UK, 8-6
3. Mansour/Stojic, USC, vs. Meier/Spencer, UK, 5-7 suspended

Order of Finish: 1, 2