Baylor women’s tennis ends season in Elite Eight, falls 4-1 to top-ranked USC

No. 37 Blair Shankle tosses the ball up in the air to serve against TCU's Sofiko Kadzhaya this Saturday, April 25, at the Hurd Tennis Center. Shankle beat Kadzhaya in straight sets 6-2, 6-2.
No. 41 sophomore Blair Shankle tosses the ball up to serve against TCU’s Sofiko Kadzhaya on April 25 at the Hurd Tennis Center. Baylor fell 4-1 to the top-ranked USC Trojans in the NCAA quarterfinals on Sunday.
Jess Schurz | Lariat Photographer

By Cody Soto
Sports Writer

Eight-seed Baylor women’s tennis was unable to pull off a massive upset at Sunday afternoon’s NCAA quarterfinal matchup, dropping a 4-1 decision to top-ranked USC at the Hurd Tennis Center.

The Bears were unable to win in key areas during Sunday’s matchup and let the Trojans take the doubles point and wins at the bottom of the lineup for the match.

“The ladies played a heck of a match and gave it everything they had,” head coach Joey Scrivano said. “USC is just a really tough team, and there’s a reason why they’re No. 1 in the country. They showed us why they’re No. 1 today.”

Baylor came out firing in doubles play, pulling out a big 4-1 lead on court one and staying in the game on court three. The freshman duo, Kelley Anderson and Theresa Van Zyl, never found their groove against USC’s Giuliana Olmos and Zoe Scandalis and dropped their match 7-4. Anderson and Van Zyl made a late run in the game, but costly mistakes ended the run early.

Junior Kiah Generette and sophomore Blair Shankle pulled away late and upended the Trojans 8-6 on court three, leaving all pressure at the top of the lineup. James-Baker and Burgic got the short end of crucial deuce points and allowed USC back into the match.

With a backhand hit wide, the Trojans took the lead and used a big run in a tiebreaker to defeat Baylor 8-7 (1) for the doubles point.

“Doubles was big today,” Scrivano said. “At this stage, every point is important and we didn’t play the right way. We let that doubles point go. That’s a match I’ll think about for a long time.”

The lone point for Baylor came from Burgic, the team’s only senior. The Lukavac, Bosnia & Herzegovina, native was forced to hold off the possibility of a third set when No. 24 Sabrina Santamaria took a 6-5 lead in the second set. Burgic took the game to a second-set tiebreaker where she defeated Santamaria and ended the match, 6-2, 7-6 (6).

“She started executing more (in the second set),” Burgic said. “She was figuring out my game against her, and she was hitting winners. I just hanged in there and I fought for every point. It was my last college match for the team, so I went all out.”

Baylor did win three out of six first sets against the Trojans, but big momentum shifts on courts two and three forced third sets for Generette and Shankle. Both of them had the lead with a first set win. Had the team won at the top of the lineup, Baylor only needed one more match to go its way in the NCAA quarterfinals.

“When you’re a player on Blair’s, Ema’s, and Kiah’s caliber, and you play on their terms, then they play really well,” Scrivano said. “When you revert to more comfortable tactics, then they don’t perform as well. When we play with maturity and out of our comfort, great things happen. When we show our youth, then we lose some of these matches.”

USC’s other three points came at the bottom of the lineup; first, Rachael James-Baker dropped a 7-6 (4), 6-2 decision on court five to No. 57 Madison Westby for the early 2-0 USC lead.

No. 79 Meredith Xepoleas downed Anderson 6-4, 6-2 at the No. 6 spot, pushing the Trojans to the brink of victory over the Bears. Burgic’s point came after that, but Theresa Van Zyl’s 6-1, 6-4 loss on court five pushed the Trojans into the NCAA national semifinals tomorrow against Vanderbilt.

“Every girl fought, and it’s hard (to lose), but they gave it all they got and I’m proud of this team anyways,” Burgic said.

The season is not over for two Baylor players though. Burgic and Shankle will team up and compete in the NCAA Doubles Championships, and Burgic will enter into the singles draw. Both competitions start after the team championships this week.

Baylor (28-7) ends the season as Big 12 regular season and tournament champions and 3-1 in NCAA tournament play. The Bears only lose Burgic and return every other player for the 2016 season. If the team can focus and improve in the offseason, then Scrivano expects good things from the Bears next spring.

“I’m looking forward to next season and taking this nucleus and harping on this match. I think it will be a big motivator for us,” Scrivano said. “We’ll have to bounce back with a greater team effort and players have to improve in the offseason. We just have to keep improving.”