The match marked the A&M debut of head coach Howard Joffe, as well as freshman Janine Erasmus, who was on the short end of the deciding final match in the Aggies' first round action in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend at the Scott Speicher Tennis Center on the Florida State University Campus. Despite the loss, the first-year coach kept things in perspective and was pleased with the entire team's performance.
"I talked to girls and at the end we sort of joked that certainly for my first Texas A&M match as head coach and for Janine - that was her first college match because she didn't play in the fall - one could say that was rather cruel and unusual punishment to lose it so closely," Joffe said. "From a more sane perspective, obviously we prefer to win. Obviously the kids are disappointed and I am disappointed for them, but that match is not going to make us or break us. Playing hard and getting better all the time is what is most important.
"One thing that just really impressed me, I was delighted with the effort of the team. Our kids were out there fighting really, really hard. I don't think anyone played poorly. We'll continue to get better. Obviously it was very disappointing for them, but the effort was outstanding."
Ole Miss took the early lead by winning the doubles point. The Rebels' fourth-ranked duo of Kristi Boxx and Abby Guthrie broke away from A&M's Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar and Sun Wen by winning the last three games to close out an 8-4 victory.
At the No. 2 line, Gabby Rangel and Erin Stephens of Ole Miss got up two service breaks early against A&M's Janelle Cuthbertson and Nazari Urbina and held a 5-1 lead before the Aggie duo rallied and managed to get within 6-5. The teams then held serve for the remainder of the match, with Ole Miss clinching the doubles point with an 8-6 win.
The match at the No. 3 court was halted with the Ole Miss team of Julia Jones and Caroline Rohde-Moe holding a narrow 6-5 lead over A&M's Sheri Olivier and Lauren Santacroce.
"I actually thought we played just fine in doubles," Joffe said. "I didn't think we played poorly at all. At the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, Ole Miss played particularly well. And the No. 1 spot, as Ole Miss rather well, we were a little off balance but we hung in there and made a match of it. At the No. 2 match, we were down the whole way. Our girls fought very hard and suddenly it got very interesting at the end. And at the No. 3 match, I thought Sheri and Lauren played well."
Down 1-0, singles got off to a disheartening start for the Aggies as Cuthbertson retired after going down with a leg injury trailing Jones, 4-2, at the No. 5 line.
"The first thing that I told the team at the end of the match was that the only tragedy today is that Janelle got hurt," Joffe said. "Janelle has invested just so much of herself in getting healthy and getting ready to play and actually doing a darn good job playing, and so that is the only disappointing part of the day in reality."
With Ole Miss holding a 2-0 lead, Sanchez-Quintanar, playing her first dual match as an Aggie, put A&M on the scoreboard with a convincing win at the No. 1 line. In a match-up between highly ranked players, the 11th-ranked Sanchez-Quintanar cruised to a 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 12 Boxx to put A&M within 2-1.
Santacroce then knotted the team score at 2-2 by disposing of Stephens, 6-4, 6-2 at No. 4 singles, winning three consecutive games to close out the match.
The final three matches would be decided in back-and-forth three-setters. No. 61-ranked Wen, a junior college transfer playing in her first dual match for the Aggies, dropped her opening set against Guthrie, 6-3, at the No. 3 line but pulled away from a 3-3 tie in the second set to win 6-4 and even the match at a set apiece. Wen then won the first two games of the third set and went on to win, 6-3, to give the Aggies their only lead at 3-2.
Urbina won her first set against Rohde-Moe, 6-4, at the No. 2 line, but after two service breaks apiece, the 54th-ranked Rohde-Moe posted her third service break to take a 6-5 lead. Ole Miss then held serve to win the second set, 7-5, and force a third set. The score was tied at 3-3 in the final set before Rohde-Moe went up a break to take a 4-3 lead. She went on to win, 6-4, to even the team score at 3-3.
All eyes then became focused on Court 6, where Erasmus had won the first set, 6-3, and sophomore Vivian Vlaar took the second set by the identical score. Erasmus had built a 4-2 lead in the third set before Vlaar rallied to take a 5-4 advantage. Erasmus broke serve to knot the set at 5-5, but Vlaar broke right back to go up, 6-5. Erasmus broke Vlaar for the third time in the set to tie the score at 6-6 and force a tiebreaker. With the team victory on the line, Vlaar won the first two points and led the rest of the way, taking the tiebreaker, 7-3, as the Rebels improved to 3-0 on the young season.
"In talking to the girls, there is no such thing as a good loss I suppose, but Janine, this was her first college match, not only her first dual match," Joffe explained. "She hadn't played in the fall. She was injured all fall, and today it comes down to her match. I didn't see her whining or yelping or anything. All she did was fight very hard and try her buns off, and so I'm delighted with her and very, very proud of her. It was a very cruel position for a freshman to be in, but she did great.
"I'm delighted with all the kids, and I fully expect them to come out tomorrow and be ready to battle hard. If today was the end, then it is tragedy, death and disaster. If the end is our team getting very, very good this year and then year-in and year-out being one of the best teams in the nation, then today was an awful good start. I fully expect our girls to come out tomorrow spitting fire and ready for some more."
The 29th-ranked Aggies return to the Scott Speicher Tennis Center on Sunday to faceoff against No. 56 Ohio State, at 10 a.m. ET (9 a.m. CT). The Buckeyes fell to host and 18th-ranked Florida State, 5-2, in the other first-round match in Tallahassee.
37 Ole Miss 4, No. 29 Texas A&M 3
ITA Kick-Off Weekend
January 28, 2012
Scott Speicher Tennis Center, Tallahassee, Fla.
1. (#11) Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (TAMU) def. (#12) Kristi Boxx (OM), 6-2, 6-2
2. (#54) Caroline Rohde-Moe (OM) def. (#105) Nazari Urbina (TAMU), 4-6, 7-5, 6-4
3. (#61) Sun Wen (TAMU) def. Abby Guthrie (OM), 3-6, 6-4, 6-3
4. Lauren Santacroce (TAMU) def. Erin Stephens (OM), 6-4, 6-2
5. Julia Jones (OM) def. Janelle Cuthbertson (TAMU), 4-2 ret.
6. Vivian Vlaar (OM) def. Janine Erasmus (TAMU), 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3)
Doubles (Ole Miss wins the point)
1. (#4) Boxx/Guthrie (OM) def. Sanchez-Quintanar/Wen (TAMU), 8-4
2. Gabby Rangel/Stephens (OM) def. Cuthbertson/Urbina (TAMU), 8-6
3. Sheri Olivier/Santacroce (TAMU) vs. Jones/Rohde-Moe (OM), 5-6 unfinished
Order of finish
Doubles: 1, 2
Singles: 5, 1, 4, 3, 2, 6*
Texas A&M: 0-1
Ole Miss: 3-0