NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Two seasons ago, Vanderbilt women's tennis won its first Southeastern Conference tournament championship. On Sunday, the Commodores returned to the pinnacle of SEC tennis in dramatic fashion.
Vanderbilt utilized near-perfect play to upend Florida, 4-3, in the SEC tournament title match. The Dores disposed of the Gators for the second time in one week, having sunk UF last Sunday to win VU's first SEC regular-season championship. Now, the SEC tournament title is back on West End.
Vanderbilt advanced to the SEC championship match by knocking off two incredibly testing teams in LSU Tigers and South Carolina team, 4-2, on Friday and Saturday. Inside a packed Currey Tennis Center, VU brought the same level of intensity to Sunday's play.
Facing two top-20 Gators doubles duos, No. 3 Astra Sharma and Emily Smith fell to seventh-ranked Anna Danilina and Ingrid Neel, 6-2. Florida clinched the doubles point on court two as No. 20 Brooke Austin and Kourtney Keegan downed Emma Kurtz and Sydney Campbell, 6-2.
No. 72 Fernanda Contreras and Christina Rosca were tied with Peggy Porter and Belinda Woolcock, 4-all, at the conclusion of doubles.
Falling in tandems on courts one and two, Vandy immediately pulled together to take four first sets and 18 deuce points in singles.
In a top-10 battle, No. 4 Sharma quickly leveled the match, 1-all. Playing inspired tennis, the Commodore earned the first set advantage over No. 6 Belinda Woolcock, 6-4. The redshirt senior from Perth, Australia allowed the Gator just one additional game on court one, 6-4, 6-1.
Ranked No. 44, Keegan took the lead for UF in a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Georgina Sellyn.
No. 11 Campbell dominated her first set against No. 29 Ingred Neel. The senior only allowed Neel one game in the opening set on court two, but the Gator had other plans. Neel quickly put five games up on the Franklin, Tenn. native to force a third set, 6-4. Down 4-3 in the final set, Campbell took the next three games for the team point, 2-2.
With Kurtz falling in the first set, 6-3, the freshman from Atlanta charged back into her match on court four against No. 37 Anna Danilina, taking the second set, 6-3. Leading 3-1 in the final set, it looked to be another Commodore victory, but Danilina sneaked back in to take the point for the orange and blue, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
At 3-2 Florida the Dores needed to win both of the remaining matches to clinch its second SEC tournament title.
In the grittiest performance of the day, No. 96 Rosca broke serve to take her first set against 2016 SEC Player of the Year Brooke Austin. Up 5-3 in the second set, the freshman Commodore allowed Austin back into the match, allowing the Gator to take four straight games and the set. In the third and final set, Rosca again found herself with a comfy 5-1 lead, and the Florida All-American chipped away at the lead, 5-4. Rosca strung together beautiful key points late in the match for the victory, 6-4, 5-6, 6-4.
At 3-all, all eyes turned to No. 6 singles as No. 69 Contreras built a 6-0 lead against No. 75 Spencer Liang. The sophomore Commodore from Austin, Texas earned nine straight games before Liang could string together a five-game run. With her team and a packed Commodore crowd cheering her on, Contreras' crafty style of play and one-handed backhand allowed her to break and then hold serve for the match, 6-0, 7-5.
For their hard work and tournament heroics, Campbell and Rosca earned spots on the SEC All-Tournament Team.
Vanderbilt now awaits a trip to the NCAA tournament in May, where it looks to create a few more upsets and memories along the way.