It’s only fitting that the final match of the regular season, pitting No. 22 ASU tennis against No. 31 UA, would come down to the 6-6 third set in a tiebreaker point between ASU sophomore No. 65 Stephanie Vlad and UA senior No. 58 Lacey Smyth.
The two have led their respective teams up in the rankings and likely into the NCAA tournament through what ASU associate coach Clint Letcher describes as similar playing styles.
“They’re both hard workers, they’re baseliners, they work hard out of the corners,” he said. “They don’t give each other an inch.”
At the end, Smyth got the upper hand. She seemed to gain more energy in the second set, and the riotous crowd pushed her forward after falling behind 6-5 in the third set.
“Even though Steph made every ball, I just think (Smyth) just stepped up and hit some big balls and big points,” Letcher said.
This match was the deciding factor in a 4-2 ASU loss.
It was not the only three-set match. Both junior Leighann Sahagun and freshman Gussie O’Sullivan played the third set. For more than an hour, the score was tied at two; the third sets were going to decide the victory.
O’Sullivan lost mere seconds before Vlad fell. O’Sullivan won her first set but couldn’t maintain momentum and lost both the second and third sets.
“I think she played a little bit not to lose rather than keep her foot on the gas pedal,” coach Sheila McInerney said.
Sahagun almost collapsed early in the match after taking a quick 3-0 lead in set one, but said panic set in when she realized she had a chance to help separate the game.
She ended up losing the first set. She fell behind 4-2 in the second and was on the game point that would push her deficit to 5-2, but she said her dad calmed her down.
“Everybody around me was in a struggle and I figured that if I fought this out that I would help my teammates a lot,” she said.
She won the set through a 6-6 tiebreaker, and went into the third. Her match went unfinished.
The only singles victory was through Kassidy Jump, who defeated No. 74 Lauren Marker in two sets.
The two had played against each other before. Jump said it created a rivalry between the two after Marker lost in juniors and disrespected her, saying she “couldn’t believe she lost to ‘Kassidy Jump.’ ”
There was no question who played better in this match.
“I felt like I had a lot more control,” she said, comparing this match to the previous one against Marker. “I didn’t go for stupid shots … and I was just smarter about how I handled things.”
She said she stepped into the shot and took time away from Marker’s return, and secured a point for ASU in the process.
The other ASU point came from doubles. Both court one (Sahagun and sophomore Desirae Krawczyk) and court two (Jump and junior Joanna Smith) got victories.
“(Krawczyk) returns big and that can kind of set the tone,” Sahagun said.
They jumped to a 5-0 lead before coming back to earth and winning 8-2.
“We were super aggressive which kind of helped us set the pace of the match,” Sahagun said.
Aggression was key in doubles, and Letcher said the Sun Devils lacked it in the rest of the match.
“In the end, aggression won the match for UA,” he said. “They were just more aggressive in the crucial points.”
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