KU netters season ends at NCAA second round

MALIBU, Calif. – The No. 18-ranked Kansas tennis team headed into singles play with a hard-fought doubles point, but after dropping five of the six first sets in singles play, the Jayhawks never recovered against No. 12 Pepperdine and dropped a 4-1 decision at the Ralphs-Straus Tennis Center Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
With the loss, KU ended the season at 16-7, while the Waves improved to 24-2 and will advance to face Georgia Tech Friday night in the round of 16. Kansas carried a top-20 ranking for 11-straight weeks, tied for second place in the Big 12 Conference regular season, earned its third-straight NCAA Tournament bid and won its first NCAA Tournament match since 1999.
“What a college tennis match that was. Credit to Pepperdine,” head coach Todd Chapman said. “They have a great team and are good enough, in my opinion, to challenge for a national title. We played great doubles and really competed in a way to give ourselves a chance to win in the top-three positions. The team laid it all on the line and Pepperdine beat us.”
After both teams claimed a doubles match, all eyes turned to court three as KU’s Despoina Vogasari and Maria Toran Ribes were heading into a tie-breaker game against Pepperdine’s Ashley Lahey and Adrijana Lekaj. The Waves jumped out to a 5-3 lead in the breaker, but Kansas rallied to win five of the next six points to win the match 7-6 (8-6) and take the doubles point. Vogasari and Toran Ribes combined to win 10 of their last 12 doubles matches on the season.
Junior Janet Koch and redshirt freshman Amber Policare put the Jayhawks in that position after a 6-4 victory on court two. The KU tandem downed the No. 76-ranked team of Evgeniya Levashova and Dzina Milovanovic, marking their first victory over a ranked opponent this season.
At No. 1 doubles, Kansas’ Nina Khmelnitckaia and Tatiana Nikolaeva came up just short in a 7-5 loss to No. 13-ranked Luisa Stefani and Mayar Sherif.
The Jayhawks looked to bring the doubles momentum over to singles play, but Pepperdine had a different idea. No. 54-ranked Levashova made relatively quick work of Toran Ribes at No. 4 with a 6-0, 6-2 win. Since moving to the No. 4 spot, Toran Ribes had won six of eight matches prior to Saturday’s loss.
Pepperdine took a 2-1 lead in the match after Nikolaeva fell 6-1, 6-2 to No. 91-ranked Laura Gulbe at No. 5 singles. Shortly after, Policare dropped her No. 6 singles match to Milovanovic, 6-3, 6-2.
Despite the bottom half of the order coming up empty, Kansas still had a shot at the top-three spots. KU’s Koch dropped her first set to No. 17-ranked Lahey, 7-5, after leading the set, 5-2.  Koch rebounded to claim the second set, 6-3, but then never took control in the third set and suffered a 6-0 loss for match point. 
At No. 1, No. 63-ranked Vogasari was in control over No. 27 Stefani after a 7-6 (7-4) first-set win. Stefani was leading the second set, 5-4, when the match was called. Kansas’ Khmelnitckaia forced a third set at No. 3 singles after dropping the first set, 7-5, and winning the second, 6-4. The third set was never played with Pepperdine clinching the match.
“This team overcame a lot of adversity this season and we are stronger program moving forward because of it,” Chapman said. “We have a lot to look forward to and we are one step closer to being one of the top teams in the country.”
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