COLLEGE STATION, Texas (SMU) - For the second day in a row, the SMU Women's Tennis Team (23-5) found itself in a tense back and forth battle in the NCAA Championships, and once again the Mustangs prevailed by a thrilling 4-3 score, this time over 12th-seeded Florida State. The victory sends the team to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 1987.
The match came down to No. 2 singles on Sunday as Edyta Cieplucha was able to finish off the comeback she was unable to against Texas A&M on Saturday.
The sophomore from Poland dropped the first set 6-4 to Francesca Segarelli, but regrouped and rallied to win the second set by the same 6-4 tally. Cieplucha carried that momentum into the third set and raced out to a commanding 5-0 lead.
As she was running out to the 5-0 lead, SMU's Shahzoda Hatamova had evened the match at 3-all to force the deciding point to come down to court No. 2. Facing elimination, Segarelli proceeded to win the next five games and even the set.
Cieplucha would not get totally rattled, however, and regained her composure to hold serve to take the 6-5 lead, then she broke Segarelli's serve for the 7-5 set and match-clinching win.
"The team just really, really battled today and I am so proud of them," said SMU head coach Lauren Longbotham Meisner. "Even though we didn't win the doubles point again, I was pleased again with how strong we came out in singles. We told them after doubles again that it is just one point and we know we can get four wins with our singles lineup. Yesterday really gave all of the girls confidence to know that playing well in singles can win you some big matches."
In doubles, SMU's No. 1 pair of Marta Lesniak and Aleksandra Malyarchikova got the day off to a strong start when they cruised past FSU's Federica Suess and Noemie Scharle, 8-0. The win improved the 57th-ranked tandem's record to 21-5 on the season.
After claiming SMU's only doubles win on Saturday, Cieplucha and her partner Heather Steinbauer weren't as fortunate against the Seminoles Sunday and fell to Segarelli and Ruth Seaborne, 8-3.
The doubles point hinged on court No. 3 where Saturday's hero Ashley Turpin and her companion Hatamova found themselves in a tight battle for the early lead with Katie Rybakova and Amy Sargeant. The Mustang pair jumped out to a 5-2 lead, but then dropped the next six games to fall 8-5 and surrender the point to FSU.
The Seminoles pushed their lead to 2-0 in singles play moments later when Sargeant downed Turpin at the No. 6 line, 6-0, 6-1.
SMU closed the gap in a hurry though, as Lesniak and Malyarchikova asserted their dominance to grab wins at Nos. 1 and 3 to even the score at 2-all.
Lesniak took the first set from Rybakova 6-1, but then dropped the second set, 7-5. After the brief set break, the junior found her game once again and cruised to the 6-1 third set victory.
Ranked No. 9 in the latest ITA singles rankings, Lesniak was recently named the ITA Texas Region Player to Watch. The honor goes to a non-senior who has an outstanding season and is expected to perform at a high level the rest of her career while demonstrating outstanding sportsmanship and character.
The two-time defending Conference USA Player of the Year has won 19 of her last 20 matches and is 42-6 on the season, including a 24-3 mark in dual matches at No. 1 singles. Her 42 wins this season rank second at SMU (45 by Stephanie Fess 1981-82) and her 85 career wins are fifth at SMU.
Malyrachikova needed a second set tiebreaker to take out Scharle at No. 3, but ultimately prevailed 6-1, 7-6 (7). Malyarchikova won for the 20th-straight time and claimed her 10 win at No. 3. The junior from Belarus is the program's current leader in career singles winning percentage, holding a 63-8 overall record during her singles career, for a winning percentage of .887.
FSU moved to within one point from the win when Seaborne took out Steinbauer at No. 4. Steinbauer had claimed the first set 6-2 and looked to be in control of her match, but ended up falling 6-4 in the second and 6-3 in the third.
Hatamova's win at No. 5 came moments later to even the match once again. The sophomore claimed her second consecutive straight set victory, ousting Suess, 6-3, 6-4, to set the stage for Cieplucha's heroics.
Hatamova now has 16 wins on the season and nine at the No. 5 line. Cieplucha's dramatic comeback win was her 18th on the spring and 20th overall. She is 18-7 at the No. 3 singles position.
"Both myself and this team have had an unbelievably tough year," said Meisner. "For me personally dealing with losing my sister Courtney during the fall season, and then with so many girls battling injuries all season. It seems that at some point, every player has had some sort of injury. To see them rally and fight their tails off all weekend was so rewarding. They worked really hard for this. We wanted to prove that we could beat a Top 15 team, and we did that and I'm just so proud."
SMU is making its school-record third consecutive and 11th overall appearance in program history in the NCAA Tournament. Sunday's victory improved the team's NCAA mark to 8-9. Meisner is now 4-2 in NCAA Championship action.
Prior to this season, the Mustangs had only advanced past the second round twice. In both 1987 and 1978 the program made the semifinals.
Meisner, the 2011 ITA Texas Region Coach of the Year, improved her career record to 105-28 (789). The fifth-year head coach has the most wins in program history and also holds the record for highest career winning percentage.
"You know, I've had teams that were ranked higher than this one and they got beat in the second round," added Meisner. "It is just one of those things. We never have looked at a number or ranking all season. Who cares what the rankings say, we just go out there and play our game. If we do that we know we can compete with anybody."
With the win, the Mustangs will now face No. 5 Baylor in the Sweet 16 on Friday, May 20th at 5 p.m. CDT. Baylor leads the all-time series between the squads 17-11, with SMU's last win coming in 1995.
The two teams met earlier this season in Waco with Baylor squeaking out a 4-3 victory. The squads also met in both 2009 and 2010, with Baylor winning 4-2 in the NCAA Second Round in 2009 and prevailing 4-0 in regular season play in 2010. Those contests were also played in Waco.
The teams will be meeting for only the second time in the NCAA Tournament and for the first time in any capacity on a neutral court.
Complete NCAA Championship results and stats can be found at www.ncaa.org.
No. 32 SMU 4, No. 12 Florida State 3 NCAA Division I Women's Tennis Championship Second Round George P. Mitchell Tennis Center, College Station, Texas