Amid controversy in the last match of the afternoon, the South Carolina women's tennis team battled and won against Wake Forest 4-3 in the final matchup of its weekend homestand.
The Gamecocks entered its homestand finale having earned two victories against Coastal Carolina and Yale on Friday, both by a 4-0 score. In both matchups, South Carolina emerged on the front foot early by dominating in doubles play and later making quick work of its opponents in the singles round.
Sunday's matchup, however, began the opposite way. Wake Forest won the doubles point after victories from the country's No. 10 doubles team made up of graduate student Anna Brylin and junior Brooke Killingsworth, who beat senior Ayana Akli and sophomore Gracie Mulville 6-3, and juniors Mia Ahmad and Casie Wooten, who beat junior Allie Gretkowski and freshman Alice Otis 7-5.
Since South Carolina didn’t win the doubles point, it had to win four of the six singles, and it got off to a great start in achieving that goal with two early singles wins. Both Mulville and senior Elise Mills defeated their opponents in two sets, bringing the match's overall score to 2-1.
As the match continued to progress, there were intense moments and momentum swings as both teams exchanged points. The Demon Deacons tied the match at 2 points apiece after Brylin defeated No. 6 sophomore Sarah Hamner in an evenly-matched, three-set contest, but the Gamecocks responded after Otis clinched a three-set victory of her own against senior Maddie Lynch.
South Carolina had an opportunity to clinch the outright victory in a matchup between sophomore Misa Malkin and freshman Whitley Pate, but it was Pate who would give Wake Forest life and tie the match at 3 points all.
The decisive singles point came down to a pair of top-30 players in Akli, who is ranked No. 6, and Wooten, who is ranked No. 29. The two engaged in a long, drawn-out battle, which Akli ultimately won 7-6 on the third set.
Each match had its own intense moments, but there was more controversy in Akli and Wooten’s match than any other. In the game’s final moments, shots were overturned and rules were argued, which caused the coaches on both sides to get heated.
“Everybody’s tensions are real high in a situation like that,” South Carolina head coach Kevin Epley said. “I guess some of those calls could’ve gone either way, but both coaches are always going to defend their team in that situation ... It could’ve gone either way, but fortunately, it went our way.”
During her match, Akli was dealing with what looked like back spasms and was worked on by an athletic trainer multiple times in between sets. At one point, she even resorted to using a medical timeout to receiver treatment.
“I think she's just tweaked it a little bit. She’s real strong — strong haunches — and tends to get a little bit tight, so she was just trying to keep it loose,” Epley said. “I don’t think it was terrible, but I think it was just something that she had to maintain.”
For its next match, the Gamecocks will hit the road to face off against Wichita State at 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 25.