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Southern Freshmen Reign At NCAA DI Tournaments

May 26, 2009 04:33 PM

Two Southern freshmen shocked the collegiate tennis world by taking NCAA Division I singles championships Monday. Mallory Cecil of Spartanburg, S.C. took her second NCAA trophy of the year as her Duke Blue Devils women’s team also won the team championship. Brandon, Miss.’s Devin Britton became the first Ole Miss player to win the singles title.

It was the first time two freshmen took the titles in the same year.

Duke University freshman Mallory Cecil capped off her stellar rookie season today, defeating Miami’s Laura Vallverdu 7-5, 6-4 to win the NCAA Women’s Tennis Singles Championship. Cecil is the second player in Duke women’s tennis history to win the NCAA individual crown and just the fifth in ACC history.

Cecil becomes just the 14th women’s tennis player in NCAA history and first in ACC history to win both a team national title and individual crown in the same season and the first to do so since 2004. She is the seventh freshman in NCAA history to take home the title with the most recent coming in 2005. Vanessa Webb captured the individual championship for Duke in 1998. This is Cecil's second national title in a week after she helped guide the Blue Devils to the team title on May 19.

“I told Jamie [Ashworth, Duke head coach] just outside that I feel like I should have another match tomorrow,” Cecil said. “It feels amazing. Just like with the team, words can’t describe how much fight and heart went into this for me, and for me to be out here representing my team and representing Duke, I couldn’t ask for more.”

“I don’t want to leave here,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “I told [Texas A&M Women’s Head Coach Bobby Kleinecke] that I wanted to cut a piece of the net off and take it with us, and he asked us if we could please not cut the net up.”

The opening set was an evenly fought battle. Cecil and Vallverdu held serve through six games, which included the Duke rookie fighting off various break points in the sixth game to keep the match tied at three apiece.

After holding her serve and fighting through numerous deuces, Cecil came right back and did the same to Vallverdu. Winning advantage, Cecil fired a backhand deep into the corner to force Vallverdu to miss her shot down the line wide and give Duke the early break to go up 4-3.

Game eight proved to be much of the same as Cecil fell behind 15-40. The Spartanburg, S.C., native fought off three break points and Vallverdu sent a shot just long to give Duke a 5-3 lead in the set.

Vallverdu came back in the next game and held easily to make it a 5-4 score. Looking to close out the set on her serve, Cecil fell behind 30-0 early. She battled back to tie the score 30-30, but Vallverdu took the final two points to tie the set at five games apiece.

Cecil came right back and went up 40-0 and broke Vallverdu for the second time in the match to go ahead 6-5. Facing a chance to close out the set for a second time, she won the final three points of the game to take a 1-0 lead in the match at 7-5.

“When [Vallverdu] played Chelsey out there, Chelsey was really flat,” Cecil said. “I definitely feel like I have more spin than she (Vallverdu) does. I like to hit some angles, too, just like she does, but today, Jamie kept telling me to move my feet and stay inside that baseline. She likes to stay right up on that baseline, so by me staying up there with her and just pushing in with her, trying to push her back, I thought that was really key.”

The two both held serve in the first two games, but Cecil took over in the third game and never looked back. After breaking Vallverdu’s serve in the third game with a cross-court backhand winner, she cruised her way to a 5-1 lead.

Vallverdu would not give up as she held serve and broke to make it a 5-3 score in the second set. With Miami serving to stay in the match, Cecil grabbed a 40-30 lead to set up championship point. Vallverdu fought off that initial match point and two others to stay alive at 5-4 in the second set.

After dropping three straight games, Cecil regained her composure and raced out to a 40-15 lead to set up championship point. She put Vallverdu on her heels right away, forcing the Hurricane to stay behind the baseline. Cecil’s deep shot forced Vallverdu’s return long of the baseline to give Cecil the national title.

“I kept thinking about yesterday when [Vallverdu] as 5-2 with [Georgia’s Chelsey Gullickson] and came back and ended up winning that set,” Cecil said. “I knew she was going to keep going and not just roll over. Once I got up 5-1, I played a couple of loose points. I wasn’t swinging really and I stopped moving my feet. I definitely tightened up. In that last game, the sun was really in my eyes so I was just trying to get that serve in, keep going for my shots, just not even think about the score in the games at this point and just try and finish it out.”

Cecil closes out her season with a 32-4 record, marking the 46th time in program history a Blue Devil has eclipsed the 30-wins mark. Her 32 victories are tied for 32nd all-time. Playing No. 1 all season for Duke, she helped guide the Blue Devils to the team championship a week ago. Duke finished the season 29-3 this season on its way to becoming national champions.

“For Mallory through this week and the team before, I don’t think we could have asked for a better two weeks,” Ashworth said. “It has been so much fun. I can’t believe it’s over. It was so much fun with the group of girls that we had and just seeing the ride that (Mallory) was on. I’ll go home and kind of reflect a little bit and take some time, and hopefully she can do the same and enjoy everything that she’s accomplished.”

Jackson, Miss.’s Lindsay Burdette and her partner Hilary Barte of Stanford were doubles finalists.

Women from USTA Southern who made the round of 16 in singles and doubles were Reka Zsilinszka of Duke and Fayetteville. N.C.; Joanna Mather of Florida and Atlanta, Ga.; Natalie Pluskota of Tennessee and Atlanta, Ga. and Kristi Boxx of Ole Miss and Jackson, Miss.

Contributed by Jenny Markow, USTA Mississippi and the Ole Miss men's tennis web site.

If you don’t believe that dreams can come true, just ask Devin Britton!

Britton started playing tennis at Colonial Country Club at the ripe old age of five. Elizabeth Lyle was his first teaching pro. He played USTA Junior Team Tennis for a number of years, playing on the high school level team by the time he was ten years old. He also played at Bridges and River Hills in Jackson.

While playing in the Orange Bowl Championships, Britton was spotted and picked by the USTA to join the USTA Player Development elite group. Training for three years (14-17) under Nick Bollettieri at the IMG Academy took Britton’s game to the next level. It was during the 2008 US Open junior championships that Britton accomplished a major feat: he made it to the finals. He is the first American to make it to the finals since Andy Roddick.

After this accomplishment, he was only one step away from another dream, playing tennis for Ole Miss. He has just completed his freshman year playing for the Rebels and he brought home the NCAA Singles Championship trophy, a first ever for Ole Miss. “When you get a national championship, that says it all,” Ole Miss tennis coach, Billy Chadwick says. “It’s a great day for Ole Miss and a great day for Mississippi. I think Devin made a smart move coming to college,” continues Chadwick. Did he ever dream of becoming a professional tennis player? “I always knew if hard work and determination could take you where you want to go, Devin would make it to the big dance,” says his mom and biggest fan, Cindy. “We have no idea where things will go from here, but to say we are on top of the world right now is an understatement!”

Britton came to this year's NCAA tournament as an unseeded player, but he defeated three seeded players while on his way to winning the title. In the finals, he faced Ohio State senior Steven Moneke who was on a 22-match winning streak. Britton fell short in the first set where he lost 6-3. He stormed back in the second and third sets and soundly defeated Moneke, 6-2, 6-3. Britton is the first American–born player to win the title since Alex Kim of Stanford in 2000, the first freshman since Cecil Mamiit of USC in 1996 and the first non-seeded player since Luke Smith of UNLV in 1997. On top of these, he is the youngest of the three freshmen to win the singles title, including John McEnroe, who was 19 when he won it in 1978 for Stanford.

Britton became the first player in the history of the Ole Miss men’s tennis program to win an NCAA national championship in singles Monday at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center. Britton, ranked No. 30 in the nation, becomes the third Rebel to win an NCAA individual title, joining 11-time grand slam champion Mahesh Bhupathi and Ali Hamadeh, who took home the doubles title in 1995.

Britton, who finished with a 29-9 overall record, made plenty of history in his first season with the Rebels. In addition to winning the first NCAA singles title for the Rebels, he became the first freshman to earn All-America honors. He earned All-SEC honors, made the SEC All-Freshman Team and was named the 2009 ITA Southeast Region Rookie of the Year.

The two-time SEC Player of the Week helped lead Ole Miss to the NCAA Elite Eight, the SEC Championship, the SEC Tournament Championship and a final national ranking of No. 4.

Davey Sandgren of Nashville, Tenn. and John-Patrick Smith of Tennessee lost the doubles final to Dominic Inglot and Michael Shabaz of Virginia.

Other Southerners who made the round of 16 in singles and doubles were Jay Weinacker of NC State and Birmingham, Ala.; and Taylor Fogleman of North Carolina and New Orleans, La.




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