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May 17, 2009

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The No. 22-ranked South Carolina women’s tennis team (17-11) saw its NCAA Championships run come to an end Sunday in the quarterfinals with an epic 4-3 loss to No. 2-seeded and ranked Georgia (27-2) at the Mitchell Tennis Center in College Station, Texas.

The deciding match came at No. 3 singles between Georgia’s Nadja Gilchrist and the Gamecocks’ Dijana Stojic. Gilchrist took the first set 6-4, but Stojic answered with a 6-4 victory in the second to force a third set that wound up deciding the fate for each team.

After falling behind 0-40 on her serve in the first game of the third set, Stojic managed to come back and hold for a 1-0 lead. Stojic had a chance for a break up 2-1 and 30-40 on Gilchrist’s serve, but the Bulldog fought back to make it 2-all and then broke Stojic for a 3-2 advantage.

With fatigue hampering both players, the next four games ended up being service breaks, but Stojic had a critical hold in the ninth game to lead 5-4 with a chance to break Gilchrist for the match. With the score tied 15-all, Gilchrist won the next three points to continue the match and then broke Stojic in the next game after several deuces for a chance to serve it out.

Gilchrist called for an injury timeout heading to the changeover after taking a 6-5 lead because of cramping and Stojic received treatment as well. After trading points on the first two rallies of the 12th game, Gilchrist hammered two forehand winners to set up double match point. She hit one more forehand winner at the net after Stojic hit a short ball in the service box to lift the Bulldogs to victory 7-5 in the third.

“It was a real tough battle,” South Carolina head coach Arlo Elkins said. “I looked at the draw last night, and there were all these teams that were like 28-1, and 27-4, and 26-2, and then you look at ours and we were 17-10. I think people thought we didn’t belong there, but from this match today they showed that we did belong there. One of the reasons we had the record we did is that we played probably the toughest schedule, I think, in the country. Out of the 22 matches we had (in the regular season), 18 were in this NCAA Tournament. And, I also think that’s one of the reasons that it made us play so much better at the end of the year. We were pretty match tested, and I think that was proved today.

“This is what I told this team: I wanted them to set the standard not for this team here but for years to come and getting to the quarters was one and getting to the Final Four would have been it also. But, the reason they really set the standard is not for their wins and losses; they set the standard because of the attitude that they had. You know, we used to be satisfied with winning a round in the regional tournament and now they’re really mad that they lost in the quarters, so that’s a step forward and now we just have to take it from here.”

Sunday’s five-hour plus match began with the Gamecocks winning an incredible doubles point. Georgia’s No. 1 team of Chelsey Gullickson and Gilchrist defeated Ana Marija Zubori and Natasa Vuckovic 8-4, but the final two matches would go to South Carolina.

Gira Schofield and Miljana Jocic of South Carolina found themselves down 7-6 against Monika Dancevic and Yvette Hyndman on court two and had to fight off a match point to extend the match to 7-all. They then took the next two games for a 9-7 victory to set up the deciding match at No. 3 doubles.

The Gamecocks’ Suzanna Mansour and Stojic got off to a shaky start against Naoko Ueshima and Cameron Ellis, falling behind 4-1 after five games. They stormed back to take the next four games for a 5-4 lead, but Georgia answered by winning three games in a row to get within one game of taking the point. After closing the deficit to 7-6 and then tying it at 7-all, Georgia won the next game and South Carolina answered to send it to a tiebreaker. In the breaker, the Gamecocks dominated the Bulldogs 7-3 for the 1-0 lead heading into singles competition.

Zubori added to South Carolina’s point total after defeating Hyndman 6-3, 6-3 at No. 2 singles to improve to 31-6 on the season and 23-4 at No. 2 singles. Her 23 dual match victories for the year is the most by a Gamecock since Biljana Mirkovic had the same number in 1987.

Gullickson got things rolling for Georgia after she posted a 6-4, 6-3 decision against Schofield at No. 1 singles to cut the margin to 2-1. Vuckovic, though, answered for South Carolina on court four by taking care of Dancevic 7-6(3), 6-3 to put South Carolina within a point of advancing to the Final Four for the first time in school history.

Ellis then came back after losing the first set to Mansour 6-2 at No. 6 singles to win the second 6-3 and the third 6-1. Ellis held a 3-0 lead in the second before Mansour raced back to make it 3-all, but Ellis closed out the match winning nine of the next 10 games to keep Georgia’s hopes alive.

Ueshima and Jocic’s match at No. 5 singles finished shortly after the No. 6 match with Ueshima winning 6-3, 6-3 to set up the match’s thrilling ending on court three.

The Gamecocks still have some work left in the NCAA Championships this year, as Schofield and Zubori will represent the team in the 64-person singles tournament that starts Wednesday. Zubori will also compete in the 32-team doubles tourney with Vuckovic beginning Thursday. The draw for both championships is set to be released Tuesday.

#2 Georgia (27-2) def. #22 South Carolina (17-11), 4-3

1. #9 Chelsey Gullickson, UG, def. #43 Gira Schofield, USC, 6-4, 6-3
2. #48 Ana Marija Zubori, USC, def. #55 Yvette Hyndman, UG, 6-3, 6-3
3. #56 Nadja Gilchrist, UG, def. Dijana Stojic, USC, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5
4. Natasa Vuckovic, USC, def. #93 Monika Dancevic, UG, 7-6(3), 6-3
5. Naoko Ueshima, UG, def. Miljana Jocic, USC, 6-3, 6-3
6. Cameron Ellis, UG, def. Suzanna Mansour, USC, 2-6, 6-3, 6-1

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

1. #6 Gilchrist/Gullickson, UG, def. #27 Vuckovic/Zubori, USC, 8-4
2. Jocic/Schofield, USC, def. Dancevic/Hyndman, UG, 9-7
3. Mansour/Stojic, USC, def. Ellis/Ueshima, UG, 9-8(3)

Order of Finish: 1, 2, 3