The Aggies (19-5), making their 13th consecutive and 18th overall appearance in the NCAA tournament, take on host and No. 15 seed Michigan at 1 p.m. (noon CT) on Saturday, with the winner advancing to the round of 16 to be played at the University of Georgia's Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga., May 17-22.
Texas A&M, which joins LSU as a member of the Southeastern Conference in July, began today's contest by dominating its soon-to-be conference foe in the doubles competition, but the Aggies had a difficult time closing out the match in singles as the Tigers (11-13) fought back and appeared determined to avenge a 5-2 loss when the two teams met on Feb. 5 in Baton Rouge, La.
"I thought they might have gotten us with the sucker play because in the doubles we looked to be the team that was aggressive, passionate, skilled and very hungry," A&M first-year head coach Howard Joffe said. "And as much as we looked that way, they might have appeared to be the antithesis of that. And so it just proves the old saying that the doubles, while it is sort of a psychological thing, it only counts for one-seventh of the outcome. And as you could see in the score line, as the match wore on we lost four of the first sets and it was not looking good for quite awhile, so it was a very, very hard-fought win for us."
All three of A&M's doubles teams jumped out to commanding 6-2 leads to take early control of the matches. The 29th-ranked tandem of Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar and Wen Sun closed out the No. 1 match by winning four consecutive games to defeat Kari Frankenberger and Whitney Wolf, 8-2. Within minutes, Janelle Cuthbertson and Nazari Urbina clinched the crucial doubles point for the Aggies as the duo completed an 8-3 victory over Kaitlin Burns and Yvette Vlaar at the No. 2 line.
A&M's Sheri Olivier and Lauren Santacroce held a 7-2 lead over Olivia Howlett and Ariel Morton at No. 3 when the point was clinched and the match was stopped.
LSU got the upper hand once singles play began as the Tigers won four first sets, including first-set wins at the No. 1 and No. 2 lines, where the Aggies were a combined 39-5 this season. The dependable and sixth-ranked Sanchez-Quintanar, who entered the match 22-1 in dual matches and riding a seven-match winning streak, lost her first set for only the second time this spring as she fell, 6-2, to Wolf at the top of the lineup. The second set was tied at 3-3 before Sanchez-Quintanar won the next nine games to complete a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 victory to give the Aggies a 2-0 lead.
Sanchez-Quintanar, playing only her fifth three-setter of the spring, improved to 36-5 overall to move into a tie for second in the A&M records for most wins in a season.
In the only match to be decided in straight sets, 78th-ranked Sun defeated Burns, 6-0, 6-3, at the No. 3 line to run her winning streak to seven. Although Sun's victory would give the Aggies a 3-0 lead, LSU was still putting up a strong fight as the remaining four matches were headed for a third set with the outcomes completely unpredictable.
Of the matches that were going to be decided in three sets, Olivier was the only A&M player to win a first set. The senior fought back from a 5-2 deficit to win, 7-6 (5), in the opening set against Morton at the No. 6 line. Morton, however, came back to win the next two sets, 7-5, 6-2 to put the Tigers on the scoreboard.
Urbina, Cuthbertson and Santacroce had won their second sets to earn a split on their respective courts. All three also had leads in the final set before Cuthbertson, who moved up a line and was playing the No. 4 spot for the first time this season, clinched the winning point with a 6-7 (1), 6-3, 6-0 victory over Frankenberger at the No. 4 line.
After splitting the first two sets, 5-7, 6-2, Urbina was up, 4-3, against Howlett at the No. 2 line when Cuthbertson clinched and play was halted.
Santacroce also had made a nice comeback after dropping the opening set, 6-4, against Wilson at No. 5. Santacroce won the second set, 6-0, and had built a 5-2 lead in the third set when the match was stopped.
"I really felt like today was a character-type of a win for us," Joffe said. "We lost four of those first six sets, our top player was getting beat like a drum, and it was sort of death and disaster everywhere you looked. But when you sort of analyze the match when it ended, the strong likelihood is we win that match 6-1 because the two remaining matches were very close to the finish line. So I'm really proud of our kids. I don't necessarily think it was the best tennis we have played this year, but in terms of poise and fight, they were as good as any coach could want."
The win marks the 10th time in 18 appearances the Aggies have won an NCAA first-round match, and it puts A&M within one victory of reaching the 20-win milestone for the first time since 2007. The Aggies, who are 1-6 in second round matches since the NCAA tournament adopted its current 64-team format in 1999, were slated to play Michigan on March 9 in College Station, but the match was canceled due to rain.
The Big Ten regular-season champion Wolverines are 20-7 overall, including 9-2 in home matches, after disposing of Illinois-Chicago, 4-0, in the first round. They are looking to make their third consecutive appearance in the round of 16. Michigan's doubles team of Emina Bektas and Brooke Bolender is ranked No. 11 in the nation, and the two are ranked 12th and 93rd, respectively, in singles.
"I hope it is a hard-fought match," Joffe said. "If that is the case, we'll give ourselves an opportunity to win it, which would be a big deal without doubt. There is no question Michigan has a very, very strong team, and they match-up well against us as well, so we hope it will be a battle."
No. 19 Texas
A&M 4, No. 43 LSU 1
NCAA Championship - First Round
May 11, 2011
Varsity Tennis Center
Ann Arbor, Mich.
1. (#6) Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (TAMU) def. Whitney Wolf (LSU), 2-6, 6-3, 6-0
2. (#53) Nazari Urbina (TAMU) vs. Olivia Howlett (LSU), 5-7, 6-2, 4-3, DNF
3. (#78) Wen Sun (TAMU) def. Kaitlin Burns (LSU), 6-0, 6-3
4. Janelle Cuthbertson (TAMU) def. Keri Frankenberger (LSU), 6-7 (1), 6-3, 6-0
5. Lauren Santacroce (TAMU) vs. Ebie Wilson (LSU), 4-6, 6-0, 5-2 DNF
6. Ariel Morton (LSU) def. Sheri Olivier (TAMU), 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-2
Doubles (A&M wins the point)
Sanchez-Quintanar/Sun (TAMU) def. Frankenberger/Wolf (LSU), 8-2
2. Cuthbertson/Urbina (TAMU) def. Burns/Yvette Vlaar (LSU), 8-3
3. Sheri Olivier/Santacroce (TAMU) vs. Howlett/Morton (LSU), 7-2 DNF
Order of finish
Doubles: 1, 2
Singles: 1, 3, 6, 4
*- Clinched match
Texas A&M: 19-5