BEVERLY, Mass. – Sophomore Kimberly Zou rose to the occasion for the No. 14-ranked Johns Hopkins University women's tennis team, breaking a 4-4 tie with an epic three-set victory at the fifth slot during a 5-4 win over No. 6-ranked Tufts University in regional final action of the NCAA Division III Tournament on Sunday in Beverly, Massachusetts.
|Tomo Iwasaki evened the match at 4-4 with a win at the third slot.|
It was clear from the beginning that the No. 5-singles match, featuring senior captain Alexa Meltzer (12-5 in singles during 2017) and Zou was going to be a battle for the ages. The two were deadlocked at 6-6 in the first set. Meltzer, who returned for the 2016-17 season after suffering a horrific leg injury in July 2015, ended up drawing first blood for the Jumbos (15-7, 6-3 in NESCAC), as she posted a 9-7 victory in the tiebreaker.
Zou then responded with a 6-2 win in the second. It became apparent early in the third set that the winner of this match would send her team to the Elite Eight of the national tournament, as all the other matches were decided. Zou carried momentum over to the third set, taking a 4-1 edge, but Meltzer, who has overcome a great deal during her Jumbo career, was not ready to go down without a fight. She won five of the next seven games, forcing another tiebreaker.
Zou raced out to a 5-0 lead in the tiebreaker, and then Meltzer scored three of the next four points, cutting the deficit to 6-3. The Blue Jays (19-5, 10-0 in Centennial Conference), who are in their 11th consecutive NCAA Tournament, then punched their ticket to the quarterfinals on May 22 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as Zou won the tiebreaker, 7-3.
The Jumbos, who are 18-16 on the national stage, dating back to the 2000-01 season, showcased their grit in this match, which is a testament to their strong coaching staff in Kate Bayard, Samantha Gann and Alex Howard. The squad went down 4-1, but with its season on the line, the Jumbos reeled off three consecutive wins.
Junior Lauren Louks started the streak, outdoing senior Jody Law, 6-4, 6-3, at the second slot, as she rebounded from an early 4-1 hole in the first set. The Malibu, California, native finished the 2017 season with a 13-7 mark in singles, competing at the No. 1 and 2 slots.
Senior captain Conner Calabro improved to 15-3 in singles during the spring season and pulled the hosts to within 4-3 on a straight-set triumph, 6-3, 6-2, against senior captain Mikey Barthelmass at the sixth slot.
The Jumbos evened the match on a top-notch performance by sophomore Tomo Iwasaki at the third slot. The Scarsdale, New York, native fell, 2-6, to freshman Sophia Strickland in the opening set, and then responded with a 7-6 (4) victory in the second set, emerging victorious by a score of 7-4 in the tiebreaker. Iwasaki sealed the deal with a 6-3 third-set win.
The Jumbos, who are in the NCAA Tournament for the 16th time in the last 17 seasons, tallied the first point of the match on a doubles victory at the second slot, as Iwasaki and sophomore Otilia Popa defeated junior Caroline Greydak and Law, 8-3. Strickland and Zou countered with an 8-3 win against Calabro and senior Jacqueline Baum at the third slot.
Barthelmass and senior captain Ashnaa Rao concluded doubles action with an 8-5 win over freshman Katherine Wiley and Louks at the No. 1 flight.
The Blue Jays, who defeated No. 32 TCNJ, 5-1, in the second round of the national tournament Saturday, then extended their lead to 3-1, as Rao defeated sophomore Mina Karamercan, 4-1 (retirement), at the top slot on the individual side. Greydak then gave the Blue Jays a 4-1 advantage, outdoing Wiley in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, at the fourth slot.
The Jumbos, who defeated Nichols, 5-0, in the second round on Saturday at Voute Courts in Medford, Massachusetts, see their run in the tournament come to an end, but the team will still be strongly represented at the Champions Tennis Club in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Karamercan will suit up in the 32-player singles competition at the NCAA Division III Women's Singles and Doubles Championships on May 25-27, while Louks and Karamercan will serve as the first alternate in the 16-team doubles competition.
The Blue Jays will face off against No. 2 Middlebury in Elite Eight action on May 22.
Written by Trevor Wenners, Athletic Communications Intern