Aggie Women Advance to SEC Tennis Championship Match
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (April 23,2022) - Tatiana Makarova stood watch over the baseline as Marlee Zein's forehand sailed long, and the No. 6 Texas A&M women's tennis team toppled the No. 15 Florida Gators in a 4-3 instant classic in the SEC Women's Tennis Championships Semifinals from Linder Stadium at the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex. The Aggies prepare to make their second SEC Tournament Final in program history and second consecutive, reaching the 2021 final before falling to Georgia in the title match.
The Aggies have cemented themselves as one of the most successful and highly decorated teams in the history of Texas A&M athletics, reaching a previously unfathomable 29-1 overall record. For the first time in program history, the Maroon & White have won 20 straight matches and have outscored their opponents by a 107-23 margin in those matches. Against fellow SEC member institutions, A&M is a program-best 15-0 and has not suffered a loss to a league foe since dropping the SEC Championship match by a 4-0 score to Georgia on April 23, 2021. In defeat, Florida falls to 19-6 overall on the season and concludes its SEC Tournament run in the semifinals.
Since Texas A&M joined the Southeastern Conference in the 2012-13 academic year, the Aggie women's tennis program has continuously made history. In their inaugural dual match season in the league in 2013, the women's tennis team secured the university's first conference regular season championship by securing a three-way tie at the top with Georgia and Florida. The 2022 Aggies are four team points away from becoming the first A&M team to claim a conference regular season and tournament championship in the same season, while simultaneously going undefeated against all league foes in both regular and postseason play.
Texas A&M and Florida duked it out in what was one of the most tightly-contested doubles points in the SEC Tournament. A&M's third-ranked doubles team of Jayci Goldsmith and Makarova got the action started with a remarkable 6-1 demolition of No. 28 Alicia Dudeney and McCartney Kessler. Goldsmith and Makarova fell in Florida's first service game and never looked back, notching their 22nd win together during the 2022 dual match campaign. The Gators responded moments later, as Bente Spee and Zein booked a 6-3 upset of 47th-ranked Carson Branstine and Mary Stoiana on court two.
With both squads splitting doubles matches through the early going, all eyes turned to the battle on court three featuring A&M's Renee McBryde and Gianna Pielet against Florida's Carly Briggs and Emma Shelton. The Maroon & White found themselves behind a break early on in the match, as Briggs' powerful serve led Florida to a 5-4 advantage. The Aggies broke Shelton and utilized McBryde's serve to take a 6-5 lead, but the Gators were able to hold on to force a seven-point tiebreaker for the doubles point. Although Florida roared ahead by a 3-0 margin, McBryde and Pielet went on a 7-1 run to close things out and lock in the doubles point with a 7-6(4) victory.
The singles competition continued to bring the drama, as both squads split first sets through the early going. No. 15 Branstine was the first to put a point on the board, as the junior recorded a stunning 6-0, 6-3 defeat of the nation's 11th-ranked singles player in Kessler. The Gators continued to battle, however, evening the match at 2-all following a pair of wins on court five and six. Sara Dahlstrom defeated Pielet 6-4, 6-0 to cut the lead to one, while Shelton deadlocked the affair following a 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Townsend. Goldsmith staved off a late advance by Briggs to secure a hard-fought 6-2, 7-5 win that helped A&M regain the lead. Florida then deadlocked the match yet again on court three, as Dudeney surpassed No. 70 Stoiana in a 6-3, 6-3 outing.
With the overall match deadlocked at 3-3, all eyes turned to the last match standing on court two between No. 20 Makarova and No. 72 Zein. Makarova got the match started with a dominant run through the early games of the first frame, racing ahead to a 5-2 lead. Aided by the hometown fans, Zein rattled off four straight games to take a 6-5 lead and force Makarova back against a wall. Makarova held on to force a first-set tiebreaker, and ultimately came away with the big points in the deciding breaker, locking it in by a 7-5 margin to take the opening stanza by a 7-6(5) edge. Despite exchanging breaks to start the second, Makarova maintained her composure and outlasted Zein in an all-out war, taking the last match standing by a 7-6(5), 6-4 score to finalize the 4-3 team result.
Following a career-defining moment on court two, Makarova moves into sole possession of fourth place in the Aggie record book for career-singles victories, reaching 101 wins over the course of her storied collegiate run. In doubles, Makarova moves into a tie for second place all-time in Aggieland with 107 victories in the category, tying A&M great Anna Blagodarova. Makarova, a native of Moscow, Russia, stands in second on the team in clinch victories with seven deciding points highlighted by her last-match-standing victory Saturday afternoon. Branstine, meanwhile, locked in the second highest ranked singles victory of her career over No. 11 Kessler. The junior's hallmark victory came against then-No. 1 Eryn Cayetano of USC, where Branstine's straight set victory also served as the highest ranked win in Texas A&M annals.