WINSTON-SALEM - The Vanderbilt women's tennis team came up just short in its quest for a second national championship on Tuesday, falling 4-3 to the 15th-ranked Stanford Cardinal in the NCAA Championship match at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex in Winston-Salem, N.C.
With loss, the Commodores cap one of its most successful seasons and sit as the Southeastern Conference's reigning regular season and tournament champions. The match was the final team event for recent graduates Astra Sharma and Payton Robinette, who end both their first and final season in the NCAA Championships.
Tuesday's tournament finale began with competitive doubles play for the black and gold, grinding out every point against the Cardinal on courts one through three.
The first win on the day was awarded to Vanderbilt's 11th-ranked doubles team, Astra Sharma and Fernanda Contreras. The Commodore duo tied a career-high doubles victory, defeating third ranked Emily Arbuthnott and Michaela Gordon for the second time this year, 6-3. After suffering a close 4-6 setback on court three, VU's 69th-ranked Emily Smith and Emma Kurtz clinched what would be an imperative doubles point for Vanderbilt. The tandem downed No. 84 Kimberly Yee and Carolina Lampl, 6-4, for the one-point advantage.
Tides shifted for the Commodores in singles play, as the Cardinal raced out to take five-of-six first-set victories. Vandy's lone first-set victory came on court one, with No. 11 Sharma taking a 7-6(3) first set tiebreaker over No. 15 Gordon.
Stanford leveled the overall match score at No. 6 singles, breaking an eight-match win streak for VU's Summer Dvorak. No. 102 Emma Higuchi defeated the Commodore, 6-3, 6-2.
The Cardinal took their first lead of the day with a win over No. 44 Rosca at the No. 3 singles position. Facing No. 93 Lampl, Rosca nearly took the first set over the Cardinal, however Lampl pulled through to earn the first set then team point, 6-4, 6-3.
Following her first-set tiebreaking heroics, Sharma continued to compete with her foot on the gas pedal. In her final NCAA team match, the redshirt senior handed 15th-ranked Gordon a 7-6(3), 6-3 loss to tie the match at two points apiece. Sharma caps her NCAA campaign with a 15-1 NCAA record. Sharma also bookends her career as the Tournament Most Valuable Player honoree in both the 2015 and 2018 NCAA Tournaments.
With a 6-3, 6-3 win against Vanderbilt's Kurtz on court five, the Cardinal took a 3-2 lead. With Stanford searching for its fourth and final point, the pressure was on junior Contreras on court two and freshman Meyer on court four, who were both late in their third sets.
The freshman Meyer played like a seasoned veteran late in her second set to send the match to a third and final set, 6-4 on court four. The Commodore battled for a 3-2 lead over No. 43 Arbuthnott in the third set and took three additional games in a row to clinch her ranked win and keep the Commodores afloat. Rallying back from a 6-4 first set loss, No. 10 Contreras ensured the Commodores a chance by taking the second set on court two over No. 40 Lord, 6-2. In a third set riddled with four straight deuce points, the Commodore hung tough with her backhand slice and forehand. With Lord leading 5-4, Contreras saved match point by taking a huge deuce point to make it 5-all on court two. The Cardinal took the following deuce point for the 6-5 lead then clinched the match and national title in the following game, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
The Commodores return to Nashville with their heads held high following a season full of accomplishments. There is still time for more history, as well; three Commodores will continue their stay in Winston-Salem, as Sharma, Fernanda Contreras and Christina Rosca will compete in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Tournament.
NCAA All-Tournament Team:
Most Valuable Player: Astra Sharma
No. 1 singles - Sharma
No. 1 doubles - Sharma/Contreras
No. 2 dubles - Kurtz/Smith