Net loss: Duke dips from No. 1 (nation) to No. 5 (ACC) in a weekend
Perhaps Duke’s women’s tennis team had it too good.
Perhaps that’s why, owning the nation’s No. 1 ranking, the Blue Devils dropped consecutive ACC road matches at Clemson and Georgia Tech by 4-3 scores.
The results, rather amazingly, dropped Duke from the top of the ACC to the No. 5 seed for this week’s ACC Tournament at Cary Tennis Park.
Instead of earning a bye into the quarterfinals, the Blue Devils (21-3) will play Wake Forest at 9 a.m. today. Today’s winner advances to play No. 4 seed Clemson in Friday’s quarterfinals.
Duke coach Jamie Ashworth praised Clemson and Georgia Tech for playing well, but added that his team needs to regain an edge for the postseason “Early in the year we played with something to prove,” Ashworth said. “We didn’t get complacent, but we got a little bit like well, no one’s gonna beat us. We’re No. 1. That kind of thing.”
The extra drive early in the year was born from the extreme adversity Duke played through one year ago. After winning the ACC championship and making the NCAA Tournament semifinals in 2012, Duke saw injury and suspension chop away at its roster in 2013.
Beatrice Capra, the 2012 ACC player of the year, was dismissed from school for 2013 for an academic violation. Rachal Kahan missed the season after having Tommy John surgery.
All-ACC player Ester Goldfeld broke her hand in April, one month after Monica Turewuicz was lost for the season to an Achilles’ tendon injury.
At last year’s ACC Tournament, depleted Duke brought Nicole Lipp over from the soccer team to play No. 5 singles. The Blue Devils forfeited No. 6 singles and No. 3 doubles because they had no one to play.
The Blue Devils were ousted in the first round by Virginia Tech. But they rallied to beat Mississippi and Texas Tech to reach the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 before losing.
“I think last year provided a huge learning process for us,” said senior Hanna Mar, Duke’s No. 2 singles player who was all-ACC in 2013. “It wasn’t about tennis. I was about being together as a team and fighting. Now that we have a full team to put on the court, I’m happy to say that we’ve maintained that mentality of we’re going to fight until the end, until the very, very end. That’s a really, really good thing to have in addition to great teammates who have been playing very well this season. I think that the fight is what we need the most.”
That fight was ever present early this season as the Blue Devils, with Kahan healthy again and Capra reinstated to school and the team, showed they were back among the nation’s top teams.
After losing 5-2 at Virginia on Feb. 21, Duke reeled off 13 consecutive wins. In 10 of those victories, opponents either won one game or were shut out.
The domination stopped last Friday and Saturday at Clemson and Georgia Tech. Duke played the Georgia Tech game without Goldfeld, who was injured but will be back today.
“It started with our doubles play,” Ashworth said. “We had been playing really great doubles and we got away from our fundamentals a little bit. So that’s something we worked on this week. Hopefully it was good for us. Hopefully we realize that if we don’t do what we need to do and play at a certain level, anyone can beat us.”
So the hope is that Duke’s current two-match losing streak will take it mentally back to where it was when this season started and doubts remained following the harsh 2013 season.
“We were extremely focused,” Mar said. “We didn’t look past the next match that was coming up. It was one match and after that move on to the next match. That’s the same mentality that we need to have for the ACC Tournament. We cannot possibly think about what’s next until after we take care of business on Thursday.”