(Courtesy of Pepperdine Athletic Communications)
MALIBU, Calif. – For the 15th time in program history and first time since 1999, the Pepperdine women’s tennis team has advanced to the NCAA Championship Round of 16 after a strong 4-2 victory over Southern California at the Ralphs-Straus Tennis Center this Saturday afternoon.
“We are heading in the right direction,” said head coach Per Nilsson. “We feel like Pepperdine should be one of the top programs in the country for women’s tennis and we are not yet satisfied with this.”
After going down to the 20th-ranked Trojans (13-6) in doubles, the eighth-ranked Waves (23-2) battled back in singles to garner four wins to end the match on a positive note. The NCAA round of 16 through the championship match and the singles and doubles championships will be held at the Michael Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Okla. The team tournament will go on from May 19-24 and the singles and doubles championship will be played from May 25-30.
The Waves number two doubles pair won the first match of the day. Pepperdine’s 19th-ranked senior Matea Cutura and junior Christine Maddox downed 117th-ranked Trojan partnership Zoe Katz and Madison Westby 6-3 to give the Waves the advantage.
USC then picked up wins on courts one and three to pull ahead 1-0 on the afternoon as the two teams headed into singles play.
“We really wanted the doubles point, but we also felt like we could win without it,” said Nilsson. “The key was not to think about doubles once we started singles, just go out and play and I think they did a really good job at that.”
Pepperdine was not deterred, however, and pulled away on five-of-six courts for the advantage in singles. Sixth-ranked freshman Luisa Stefani would even the match 1-1 for the Waves after dominating 27th-ranked Trojan Giuliana Olmos 6-1, 6-0 on court one. She now holds a 21-2 overall record in the dual campaign and has charted 21 wins over nationally ranked opponents.
“Luisa was very disciplined and we were hoping someone would get off-court really quickly to make it one-one,” Nilsson said. “She did the job, evened it up and it really helped the rest of the team.”
Cutura then gave Pepperdine the first lead of the match after dropping Jessica Failla 6-1, 6-0 for the advantage. The senior now boasts a 12-6 dual record and is perfect at 1-0 from the number five singles position.
Sophomore Laura Gulbe then fought through a well-played second set to once again bring the Waves up to a now 3-1 lead. On court two, she defeated 117th-ranked Madison Westby 6-1, 7-5 to pull ahead and put Pepperdine in the winning position. Gulbe, now on an 11-match winning streak, now holds a 17-4 overall dual record and a 17-2 record from the number two singles position.
With three matches still in session and the Waves looking to finish strong, all athletes gave strong effort. Court three would finish almost simultaneously with the Trojans taking a pair of 6-4 sets on court four to put the match at a 3-2 decision in the Waves’ favor.
Freshman Dzina Milovanovic was up to the task for the home team on court three. She had battled through her first set with a 9-7 tiebreaker to go up 7-6. Then, the she downed Zoe Katz 6-3 in the second set to clinch the overall win for her team and send the Waves to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1999. Milovanovic has been perfect at 11-0 in the number three position and boasts a 17-3 overall record in dual competition. She heads to the round of 16 with a nine-match winning streak.
“She was did a really good job hanging in there and put herself in the position to win which was great to see,” said Nilsson.
The Waves will take on Texas in Tulsa on Thursday, May 19 at 4 p.m. in the NCAA round of 16 at Michael Case Tennis Center. Follow @WavesTennis for immediate results, updates and videos and find full recaps on PepperdineSports.com.
No. 8 Pepperdine 4 def. USC 2 | NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS SECOND ROUND | MAY 14, 2016
RALPHS-STRAUS TENNIS CENTER | MALIBU, CALIF. | HOST: PEPPERDINE
1: No. 6 Luisa Stefani (PEP) def. No. 27 Giuliana Olmos (USC) – 6-1, 6-0
2: Laura Gulbe (PEP) def. No. 117 Madison Westby (USC) – 6-1, 7-5
3: Dzina Milovanovic (PEP) def. Zoe Katz (USC) – 7-6 (5), 6-3
4: Gabby Smith (USC) def. Apichaya Runglerdkriangkrai (PEP) - 6-4, 6-4
5: Matea Cutura (PEP) vs. Jessica Failla (USC) – 6-1, 6-0
6: Michaela Capannolo (PEP) vs. No. 119 Rianna Valdes (USC) – 6-4, 3-6, 0-1, unfinished
Order of Finish: 1, 5,
1: No. 6 Giuliana Olmos/Gabby Smith (USC) def. No. 26 Luisa Stefani/Apichaya Runglerdkriangkrai (PEP) – 6-4
2: No. 19 Christine Maddox/Matea Cutura (PEP) def. No. 117 Zoe Katz/Madison Westby (USC) – 6-3
3: No. 119 Jessica Failla/Rianna Valdes (USC) def. Dzina Milovanovic/Laura Gulbe (PEP) – 6-4
Order of Finish: 2, 1, 3
Notes: 66 degrees, wind Southwest 11 MPH, partly cloudy