ATHENS, Ga.- No. 11 Stanford’s thrilling attempt at an NCAA title repeat came to an end on Monday afternoon in a hard-fought 4-3 semifinal loss to No. 7 North Carolina.
Defending champion Stanford (20-3, 8-2 Pac-12) entered this year’s postseason once again as a double-digit seed, but managed to reach the NCAA semifinals for the fourth time in five years despite the early departure of back-to-back defending NCAA singles champion Nicole Gibbs and three freshmen making their lineup debuts.
Dramatic upset victories over No. 6 California (seeded No. 6) and No. 4 Virginia (seeded No. 3) quickly conjured up memories of last year’s NCAA championship run, in which Stanford became the lowest seed ever at No. 12 to capture an NCAA title following a 4-3 win over Texas A&M. In fact, entering Monday, Stanford had won nine straight NCAA Tournament matches when seeded lower than its opponent.
Instead, the Cardinal came up just short in its quest to repeat as national champions for the first time since an undefeated three-year stretch from 2004-06.
Tied at 3-3, the match was clinched by highly-touted freshman Jamie Loeb, ranked No. 1 in the country and unbeaten since February, who rallied for a 6-7 (4), 6-0, 6-0 victory against Kristie Ahn, ranked No. 3 in the nation with only three dual losses entering the contest.
Advancing to the NCAA title match for the first time in school history, North Carolina (29-5, 12-2 ACC) won the doubles point and eventually built a 3-1 lead. The Tar Heels, who led the nation with 29 victories, were coming off a 4-2 upset of second-seeded Alabama two days earlier.
For the second time during the postseason, Stanford was staring at a 1-0 deficit after North Carolina’s top duo climbed out of a 5-2 hole to secure the point. But that outcome hasn’t necessarily been a deal-breaker for the Cardinal, which entered the match sporting a 5-2 record when losing the doubles point over the last five years of NCAA Tournament competition.
Tough ending for @kristieahn, but that's who Stanford wants out there when it counts. Showed why in last year's NCAA championship match.— StanfordWTennis (@StanfordWTennis) May 19, 2014
The Tar Heels extended their lead to 2-0 when fellow rookie Hayley Carter, ranked No. 5 in the country, defeated Krista Hardebeck 6-2, 6-1 at the No. 2 spot.
Taylor Davidson put Stanford on the board with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Whitney Kay at the No. 4 position, cutting North Carolina’s lead to 2-1. It was Davidson’s 25th win of the year and third in as many matches.
North Carolina increased its advantage to 3-1 following Caroline Price’s 6-4, 6-4 triumph over Carol Zhao at the No. 3 spot. The difference was Price’s ability to convert pivotal games in both sets when the score was tied at 4-4.
However, Stanford’s depth in the lower half of its lineup proved to be a strength throughout its tournament run and that was the case again on Monday. Caroline Doyle notched her team-leading 33rd victory with a 6-2, 6-3 triumph over Tessa Lyons at the No. 6 spot, followed by Ellen Tsay hanging on for a 6-2, 7-6 (4) win against Kate Vialle on court five.
With the match knotted at 3-3, the attention shifted back to the No. 1 spot, where Ahn had become the first player to win a set from Loeb since early March. However, Loeb then responded with a 6-0 victory in the second set to force a deciding frame.
Loeb ultimately proved too tough, prevailing 6-0 in the third set for her 50th victory of the year. It was also the second time Loeb had defeated Ahn this season, with the North Carolina rookie posting a 6-2, 6-1 victory back on Oct. 4 in the quarterfinals of the ITA All-American Championships.
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Stanford Head Coach Lele Forood
“They were very tough. We had some chances. We couldn’t capitalize on some things. I mean, by the end Jamie was just pretty unconscious. Kristie was heroic in her first set, and that was a good start, but Jamie just started to just kick it up a bit. It’s tough when you lose a doubles point before you have singles. As it goes, we found three and we couldn’t find the fourth.”
North Carolina Head Coach Brian Kalbas
“I’m excited for the program. It’s the first time we’ve gotten to the finals. It’s the first time in my history beating Stanford. We know that to become a championship team, we need to go through teams like Stanford. It’s a big accomplishment for our team and I am just really excited to keep playing.”
North Carolina freshman Jamie Loeb
“The time I played to clinch the match was against Georgia in indoors. This one had a lot more at stake. I knew if I kept my composure, like I did all match, I’d be able to slowly break her down and conserve my energy. Physically, I felt fine at the end of the match and I think that played a big part."
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NOTES: Stanford and North Carolina were meeting for the first time since Feb. 20, 2011, a 4-0 Cardinal shutout at the ITA National Indoor Championships in Charlottesville, Va. … Stanford is now 133-17 all-time in NCAA Tournament competition … The Cardinal was eliminated in the NCAA semifinals for the first time since a 4-2 setback against UCLA in 2007 … How successful has Stanford been against non-conference competition? The Cardinal has lost only 11 matches combined over the last five years. Of those 11 losses, only four have come against teams outside the Pac-12: Florida (2011, 2013), Saint Mary’s (2013) and North Carolina (2014) … Krista Hardebeck replaced Amelia Herring at No. 3 doubles, teaming with Caroline Doyle for an 8-4 victory … Carol Zhao lost the first set of a match for only the sixth time this season … Ellen Tsay tallied her 24th victory after dropping back-to-back losses for the first time all season … Stanford has won 18 national championships (17 NCAA, 1 AIAW) … Only one four-year class (1993-96) failed to win at least one championship during their time on The Farm.
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No. 7 North Carolina 4, No. 11 Stanford 3
1) No. 3 Carter/Loeb (UNC) d. No. 10 Ahn/Zhao (STAN) 8-5
2) No. 13 Price/Kay (UNC) d. No. 50 Davidson/Tsay (STAN) 8-2
3) Doyle/Hardebeck (STAN) d. Ashley Dai/Lyons (UNC) 8-4
Order of Finish: 2, 3, 1
1) No. 1 Jamie Loeb (UNC) d. No. 3 Kristie Ahn (STAN) 6-7 (4), 6-0, 6-0
2) No. 5 Hayley Carter (UNC) d. No. 51 Krista Hardebeck (STAN) 6-2, 6-1
3) No. 59 Caroline Price (UNC) d. No. 21 Carol Zhao (STAN) 6-4, 6-4
4) No. 50 Taylor Davidson (STAN) d. Whitney Kay (UNC) 6-3, 6-2
5) No. 54 Ellen Tsay (STAN) d. Kate Vialle (UNC) 6-2, 7-6 (4)
6) No. 57 Caroline Doyle (STAN) d. Tessa Lyons (UNC) 6-2, 6-3
Order of Finish: 2, 4, 3, 6, 5, 1