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May 21, 2009

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The South Carolina women’s tennis team closed out the 2008-09 season Thursday in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships at the Mitchell Tennis Center in College Station, Texas.

Senior Gira Schofield lost an exhausting three-set battle with 13th-ranked Megan Falcon of LSU in the second round of the singles tournament by scores of 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. In the first round of doubles, junior Ana Marija Zubori and senior Natasa Vuckovic suffered a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Fresno State’s Renata Kucerkova and Anastasia Petukhova, the top-ranked doubles team in the country.

Schofield jumped on Falcon in the first set with two breaks of serve to lead 3-0. Falcon registered her first game when she managed to break Schofield in the fourth game on deuce No. 5. Falcon then made it 3-2, but Schofield won the next two games with a strong service hold and broke Falcon in the seventh game when Falcon double faulted on ad-out on the first deuce. After losing the next game, Schofield took the first set on her fourth set point opportunity when Falcon hit a forehand that sailed beyond the baseline.

Schofield started the second set by fighting off six break points for Falcon to hold serve and lead 1-0. The next two games, though, went to Falcon. The ensuing game went to deuce and after Schofield got the advantage, Falcon double faulted to even the score at 2-all. Schofield held serve in the next game after fighting off one break point. Both players held serve the next two games, but Falcon took control by breaking Schofield at love in the ninth game to lead 5-4 and then held to force a third set.

Both players were fatigued when it came time to start the third, but the extreme heat seemed to be affecting Schofield more than Falcon. The Tiger quickly took a 2-0 advantage before Schofield held at love to cut the deficit to 2-1. Falcon won the next two games to go up 4-1, but Schofield continued to fight and broke Falcon to get back to 4-2, but Schofield had too little energy to continue the comeback. Falcon took advantage and continued wearing Schofield down on each rally. Up 5-2 and serving at 40-30, Falcon took a short ball by Schofield and hit a crosscourt backhand winner to end the match.

Schofield completed her career by becoming the first player in school history to play in the NCAA Singles Championship four straight years. Her best finish was the second round in 2008 and 2009. Schofield is also the only four-time All-SEC honoree in program history. She is ranked seventh in school history for singles victories with 89, fourth in doubles with 81 and fifth in combined victories with 170.

In doubles, Vuckovic and Zubori fell behind 3-0 in the first set but came back to make it 3-2 before Kucerkova and Petukhova won three games in a row to close out the set. In the second with the score tied 2-all and Fresno State serving, Vuckovic and Zubori got the advantage after deuce and Vuckovic blasted a backhand winner down the line on a service return to put the Gamecocks on top 3-2. Fresno won the next three games to lead 5-3, but Vuckovic and Zubori broke serve to stay in the match. The Bulldogs, however, broke right back on Vuckovic’s serve to advance to the round of 16.

Vuckovic ends her career as a three-time All-SEC honoree and as one of only six players in school history to win at 20 singles matches four straight years. She ranks fourth in school history for singles wins with 96, is fifth in doubles with 77 and is fourth in combined wins with 173.

NCAA Singles Championship – Round of 32
#13 Megan Falcon, LSU, def. #43 Gira Schofield, USC, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2

NCAA Doubles Championship – Round of 32
#1 Kucerkova/Petukhova, FSU, def. #27 Vuckovic/Zubori, USC, 6-2, 6-4