The no. 29 UC San Diego’s women’s tennis team (12–8) couldn’t take down no. 23 Azusa Pacific University (15-8), losing 4–3 in a tightly contested NCAA tournament preliminary on Tuesday, May 14 at 2 p.m. at the UCSD Northview Tennis Courts. The match came down to a final three-set showdown between UCSD’s Ashley Chao and APU’s Petra Ivankovic, but a narrow victory for Ivankovic in the third set ended the Tritons’ season, head coach Liz LaPlante’s 40th at the helm.
The match, held at UCSD’s Northview Tennis Courts, was the third between the teams this season, as they had split their earlier two meetings. The day started out strong for the Tritons, with two decisive doubles set victories to capture the first point. In the first, the senior Ashley Chao and junior Becky Chou took down the Cougars’ Kara Hinton and Jacky Wagner 6–2; in the second, UCSD seniors Madison Hale and Alexandra Weil handled the APU duo of Anna Savchenko and April Wong 6–3.
The Cougars would equalize in the first singles match as Wong defeated Triton redshirt junior Chloe Wight (6–3, 6–1) After a 6–3, 6–3 victory by each team — UCSD’s Shweta Kumar defeating APU’s Mikayla Rinker and Wagner beating UCSD junior Valeria Corral — the match revolved around the final three singles matches; those matches would deliver in full, all going the full three sets.
Next, Chou overcame a 3–6 loss in the first set to defeat Hinton, winning the last two sets 6–0 and 6–3 to put UCSD just one win away from a trip to Altamonte Springs, Florida for the round of 16. They wouldn’t get that win in the next match though, as Savchenko avenged her earlier doubles loss to Weil, winning 7–6 (7–3), 3–6, 6–2 to place the fate of both teams on the only match yet to finish.
In the final match of the day, Chao faced off against APU’s star in Ivankovic, ranked 25th by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association — the only player on either side ranked in the top 75. The first set took a lengthy tiebreaker to decide, with Ivankovic taking it 7–6 (10-8). Chao rallied with a 6–3 second-set victory and held a 5–3 lead in the final set. But she didn’t win another game from there on out, as Ivankovic rattled off a four-game run to win the match. For APU, that meant a May 22nd date with the University of Central Oklahoma in the NCAA round of 16; for UCSD, it meant the end of its season.
The wire-to-wire loss ended a streaky, but ultimately successful year for UCSD. After an 0–3 start, the Tritons won four in a row in late February; similarly, after sitting at 4–5 midway through the season, they pulled off eight straight victories before losing three straight to close out the season. The 12–8 finish is UCSD’s fourth straight winning season and 35th in 40 seasons under LaPlante.
“If we have to lose this is the way to do it,” LaPlante said in a postgame press conference after the match. “Unfortunately it didn’t go our way today, it was such a fight and we’re happy with our season.”
The APU loss was also the last match for the three graduating seniors: Ashley Chao, Madison Hale, and Alexandra Weil. Chao’s doubles victory with Chou was her 100th victory in dual matches in her career; she closes out her collegiate career 44–38 in singles matches. The team of Hale and Weil also graduate with 62 doubles victories together, with Weil also finishing with 48 singles wins, the most of any active Triton.