For the third time in school history, second in an SEC-sanctioned sport, and the second time in two years, Vanderbilt is celebrating a team National Championship. In a stirring performance to cap an unforgettable season, Vanderbilt Women’s Tennis joined 2007 Women’s Bowling and 2014 Baseball as national champions.
Thirty days after claiming it’s first-ever Southeastern Conference Tournament championship, Vanderbilt won the national championship at the Hurd Tennis Center, at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Vandy first won their regional at home defeating Murray State and Oklahoma each by 4-0 scores. Then at nationals they defeated Clemson 4-0, Florida 4-3 in the quarterfinals, #1 Southern California 4-0 in an impressive semifinal statement, and defending national champion UCLA in a 4-2 final.
Vanderbilt finished 25-6 in the championship season, 3-0 against Florida, a program they had gone 2-45 against all-time entering the season. The Commodores ended on a 10 tie-winning streak for Coach Geoff Macdonald who, after 21 years as coach at Vanderbilt, finally got his championship. Vanderbilt has been to the postseason in all 21 seasons under Macdonald, with 422 wins, three Final Fours, two championship appearances, and now a national title. It took 14 years to earn another chance after a 4-0 loss in the ’01 final to Stanford.
College tennis plays a one-day, best-of-seven format called a tie. Three doubles matches begin simultaneously with the first team to win two of the three, gaining the first point in the tie. Afterwards come six singles matches, also begun simultaneously.
The first team to win three singles matches wins the tie. Once the deciding point in the tie is reached, the other matches are abandoned. So it really is a race not only to win your match, but also win it quickly. This format can produce quite a lot of drama and excitement. As a fan, you bounce back-and-forth, in an effort to be where the tie is won.
As Vandy took on UCLA in the final, the Bruins had won 18 consecutive doubles points, always a psychological advantage in a tie. But Vanderbilt came out strong. In doubles #1, Vandy’s 20th-ranked duo of Sydney Campbell and Courtney Colton won decisively, 8-3. UCLA’s #three-ranked team evened the score by besting VU’s #18-ranked Ashleigh Antal and Astra Sharma team 8-5. So it came down to the third match for that precious doubles point, Francis Altick and Marie Casares delivered, with an 8-5 win to give Vandy a 1-0 overall lead.
In singles, Antal defeated Kaitlin Ray 6-1, 7-6 to put Vandy up 2-0. The nation’s #one, Robin Anderson, put the Bruins on the board with an impressive 6-4, 6-1 win over Campbell. Colton then put Vanderbilt one point from victory with a 7-6, 6-4 victory over Catherine Harrison, rallying from a break down in each set. Attention then turned to court five where Casares had taken the first set and was in a second set tiebreak against Kyle McPhillips, a win in the tiebreak giving Vanderbilt the championship. Once McPhillips won that breaker 7-4 to even the match at a set apiece Vandy was further from the finish line, then once Jennifer Brady defeated Altick 6-4, 7-6 on court three, Vanderbilt’s lead was 3-2.
But on court two, tournament MVP Sharma, who had dropped the first set to Chanelle Van Nguyen 6-3, was staging a comeback. Astra took the second set 6-2 and then battled from a break down to take the third 6-4, to deliver the gold trophy for the Black and Gold. The wait was finally over for Macdonald.