By Jose Saldana
Junior Caroline Lampl’s comeback in three sets served as the clincher to send 15th-seeded Stanford women’s tennis to the NCAA Championship finale over third-seeded Duke in a 4-2 victory on Monday in Winston-Salem, NC.
The Cardinal have ticketed their third consecutive NCAA final match, after winning the title in 2016 and losing last season. They will play the first-seeded Vanderbilt on Tuesday for all the marbles.
In 2016, Stanford was the lowest seed ever to win the championship, which was seeded 15th as the current iteration of the team is.
The program is now 19-3 in NCAA tournament matches as the lower seed since 2010.
Much like how the season has gone for the Cardinal, the girls bounced back after a rough start. They dropped the doubles point, when the Melissa Lord/Janice Shin pairing lost in a hard-fought battle 7-5.
Stanford had previously dropped the doubles point to second-seeded UNC on Thursday and, similarly to that match, when the singles matches started, it was all Cardinal.
In many ways, it was appropriate that Lampl would serve as the clincher. The junior was inconsistent to begin the season and faced a similar challenge when she dropped the first set to Duke’s Kaitlyn McCarthy 2-6. However, the veteran showed her resilience and captured the second set 6-2. Lampl’s record in three-setters this season was 1-4, but that hardly mattered as she dominated the final set 6-2 to close out the victory.
Lampl has won her last 11 of 12 matches, which is more indicative of her skill than her No. 98 ranking.
After the doubles loss, sophomore Emma Higuchi tied the match at 1-1 winning against Blue Devil Hannah Zhao 6-4, 6-0. Higuchi’s last loss was back in winter, as she has 16-straight wins dating back to Feb. 24.
Following her lead was freshman Janice Shin, who prevailed easily in her singles match 6-1, 6-1 to give the Cardinal a 2-1 lead.
Then, the ever-dependable junior Melissa Lord displayed her grit by forcing a tiebreaker at 6-6 in the second set. Lord broke the tiebreaker to take the set 7-6 and the game as she won the first set 6-2.
She remains perfect in NCAA team matches with a sterling record of 14-0.
Now with a 3-1 lead, the Cardinal needed just one more win to go to the finals.
Freshman Michaela Gordon, who is ranked 15th and was named Pac-12 Freshman Player of the Year, fought brilliantly after dropping the first set to No. 6 Samantha Harris. She lost the tiebreaker in the second set to lose the match, but she was able to finish her first NCAA match after the Cardinal won before she could conclude her appearances in the previous rounds.
After Gordon’s defeat brought Duke back to within one, it was up to Lampl and sophomore Emily Arbuthnott. Both players had dropped the first set, but each roared to take the second set 6-3.
A victory in either spot would have clinched the game, but Lampl was just a bit faster to win the match for the Cardinal.
The Cardinal will vie for its 19th NCAA national championship when they go head-to-head against top-seeded Vanderbilt on Tuesday at 10 a.m. The match will be broadcast on ncaa.com.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.