The Daily Gamecock

Women's tennis beats Kentucky, falls to Vanderbilt

South Carolina concludes regular season schedule Sunday

South Carolina women’s tennis lost for the first time in six matches Sunday, dropping a match against Vanderbilt 4-2.

In their final contest of the regular season, the Gamecocks blew a 2-0 lead to the Commodores, who came into the match ranked fifth in the country.

“This was another match to see where we are against the best teams,” head coach Kevin Epley said. “I do not think we came out in singles with the appropriate energy. I think they were tougher than us.”

This was an important match for the Gamecocks, who had turned around their midseason struggles and hoped to continue the winning ways as the SEC Tournament drew closer.

The Gamecocks won the doubles point with relative ease. Senior Katerina Popova and junior Meghan Blevins, South Carolina’s No. 2 pairing, won their match 8-3 while freshmen Caroline Dailey and Ximena Siles Luna, the No. 3 pairing, won 8-5. The Gamecocks’ No. 1 pairing, Dominika Kanakova and Elixane Lechemia, were leading 6-5 when their match ended.

“I’m happy we bounced back in doubles,” Epley said. “We really took care of business.”

Despite winning the doubles point and gaining a one-set advantage in four of the six singles matches, the Gamecocks struggled to sustain their dominant play, which Epley attributed to a lack of mental toughness.

“(The Commodores) lose the doubles point, they’re No. 5 in the country, they do not have their top player,” Epley said. “They’re the ones that should have their back against the wall. If they go down a few sets, they’re the ones that should be folding. And we’re the ones that, at the first sign of adversity, sag our shoulders or start spraying balls or feeling sorry for ourselves.”

The match lasted nearly five hours, with three singles matches going deep into a third set, all of which were won by Vanderbilt despite South Carolina winning the first set in two of them.

“I felt like I had to provide the energy today,” Epley said. “We had it on some of the courts today and it disappeared. Against a team like this, you can’t do that. They sure didn’t and they’re the ones that should have.”

South Carolina’s lone singles victory came from Ximena Siles Luna, who won in straight sets (6-1, 6-1), improving her overall season record to 17-7.

The Gamecocks do not have much time to dwell on the loss. Diagnosing and addressing their weaknesses must happen quickly if they wish to make a run in the SEC Tournament. The stakes continue to rise with every passing match.

“Mentally, on a few courts, we still have some work,” Epley said. “We can’t check out; not for a second. Sometimes checking out for that one minute can be the whole match.”

This weekend, which also included a 4-1 victory against Kentucky, landed the Gamecocks at the No. 8 seed heading into the SEC Tournament, where they will face Ole Miss on Thursday at 2 p.m. in Columbia, Mo.


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