Since starting the season 12-0 and rising in the rankings as high as the top 15, the No. 31 Tennessee women’s tennis team has gone on a downward trend in SEC play.
Since that undefeated start, the Lady Vols have gone 4-9, with all nine losses and two wins coming in conference play.
On April 5, the Lady Vols traveled down to Starkville, Mississippi, to participate in the first of two matches in Mississippi against SEC opponents, the first against Mississippi State. They did not fare well against the Bulldogs, losing 4-2 after overcoming a 0-2 deficit.
Two days later, Tennessee traveled 98 miles south to Oxford, Mississippi, to play the ninth best team in the nation, the Ole Miss Rebels, on their Senior Day. Once again, success was not on the side of the Lady Vols, as they lost 4-0 to the Rebels.
Tennessee got behind early in doubles play. Court 3 was the first court of the entire day to see a match reach its conclusion as the Ole Miss duo of Natalie Suk and Anna Vrbenska dominated Tennessee’s Elizabeth Profit and Chelsea Sawyer 6-1.
After falling behind 5-1 early to Ole Miss’s Sabina Machalova and Tea Jandric, it looked as if all hope was lost for the Lady Vol duo of Gabby Schuck and Sadie Hammond. However, Tennessee’s ladies won two sets in a row to narrow the Ole Miss margin.
That rally would not be enough. In the ninth and final set, Machalova and Jandric were able to fight back against Hammond and Schuck and take the set 6-3.
Perhaps Tennessee’s best duo, the 47th ranked nationally Kaitlin Staines and Ariadna Riley, had their match against the No. 11 duo Alexa Bortles and Arianne Hartono of Ole Miss go unfinished, 3-5, with Ole Miss leading.
Behind early on 1-0, Tennessee needed to finish well in single’s play, an area in which Ole Miss boasts three athletes ranked nationally, including one in the top 15.
Hammond had the unlucky draw of facing Ole Miss’s Hartono, the aforementioned top 15 player. Their match was the first in singles to go final. Hammond would fall in two sets to Hartono, 6-3, 6-4.
Court 4 was the next match to find a resolution, with the freshman Staines facing off against Vrbenska for the Rebels. Staines, though lasting two sets, fared relatively better than Hammond.
Vrbenska would win take both sets 6-4 to give the Rebels a 3-0 lead. Facing such a huge deficit, Tennessee had to kick it into high gear if they wanted to have a chance at the upset.
On Court 5, one of Tennessee’s stalwart athletes, Schuck, was in a good position to start rallying for Tennessee. After losing her first set 6-4 to her Rebel opponent Bortles, Schuck held a 3-0 lead in the second at the conclusion of Staines’s match.
However, despite the momentum, Bortles took six straight games to put Schuck and Tennessee away for their second straight loss.
The Lady Vols will return back to Knoxville for their final two matches before the SEC Tournament, the first of which falls on Thursday, as the Lady Vols will look to get back on track against Missouri.