The 19th-ranked Texas A&M women’s tennis team took the theme of the day to heart.
The Aggies avenged a regular-season loss to No. 17 Tennessee with a 4-2 victory Friday at the Mitchell Tennis Center to reach the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament for the first time under head coach Mark Weaver.
Tennessee (19-7) defeated A&M 4-2 on March 8 indoors at Tennessee. By the end of the season, the result was the difference in the Volunteers being the No. 4 seed and the Aggies being seeded fifth for the SEC tournament.
“When we saw the draw come out, that was the match we wanted,” said Weaver, who is in his fourth year as head coach. “They got us at their place earlier in the season. I remember once the match was over I said I sure hope we get a shot at them at home in the conference tournament, and we definitely used the revenge factor with the girls, and they responded to that well.”
A&M’s Katya Townsend clinched the match at No. 1 singles, dominating play after double-faulting to lose a first-set tiebreaker. When she finished off Sadie Hammond 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1, there was only one match remaining, and it was tied 5-5 in the third set.
“Knowing that every point I’m going to give an effort even if I am down, because for me all my life that’s been stronger than my forehand, my serve or anything else is my attitude of just being able to keep fighting,” Townsend said. “It means a lot, and I’m pretty sure that is one of the first matches that I’ve clinched. It was really an amazing experience to be able to finish one for the team.”
A&M (22-6) will face No. 1 Georgia (22-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday. Georgia beat LSU 4-0 to advance.
The other semifinal will feature No. 2 seeded South Carolina and No. 3 seeded Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks defeated Florida 4-3 with Sylvia Chinellato clinching at No. 5 singles in three sets. Vanderbilt blanked Kentucky 4-0.
The Aggies won the doubles point with victories on the second and third lines. Townsend and Renee McBryde beat Maia Haumuller and Tenika McGiffin 6-3 at No. 2 doubles, then Riley McQuaid and Lucia Quiterio sealed the point with a 6-4 victory over Rebeka Mertena and Johanna Silva at No. 3.
Quiterio, who won the last-match standing against Mississippi State less than 24 hours earlier, quickly gave A&M a 2-0 lead, winning nine straight games to open her No. 6 singles match against McGiffin and winning 6-0, 6-4.
Tatiana Makarova later put A&M ahead 3-1 by winning 10 of the first 11 games and going on to post a 6-0, 7-6 (5) victory at No. 3 singles over Silva.
A&M’s Jayci Goldsmith had a match point at 5-4 in the second set over Kaitlin Staines at No. 2 singles, but Staines won nine of the next 11 games for a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory, closing A&M’s lead to 3-2
McBryde, a freshman, was on track to clinch at No. 4 singles but couldn’t get the final point despite leading Mertena 5-1 in the third set. Mertena pushed aside three match points and won four straight games to tie the set 5-5.
“It’s never easy, none of the matches,” Weaver said. “It’s such a big stage we are on. A lot of our girls haven’t been on these big exciting stages that often because we are so young. At the end of the day we could have made life easier, but also at the end of the day as well we had another hero in Katya.
“She completely took her game to the next level [after the first set], and really broke down [Hammond]. I would have bet my life that once the third set got rolling Katya had that match there. It’s a great job of staying evenly balanced mentally and physically. She raised her game a level or two.”
The stage will get bigger Saturday against the SEC regular season champion Bulldogs, who received the team trophy before their quarterfinal match against LSU.
“It’s a tough task tomorrow, but there is not a better opportunity with two matches under our belt, the semifinals of the conference tournament and we are playing on our home courts,” Weaver said. “Georgia is definitely the team to beat. They are the national indoor champions and undefeated.”
Georgia defeated A&M 4-0 in the regular season two days after the Aggies lost to Tennessee.
“We got revenge today, and I hope we can get it tomorrow,” Townsend said.