May 25, 2013
URBANA, Ill. -
Arizona State University seniors Jacqueline Cako and Nicole Smith were defeated in the quarterfinal round of the doubles bracket by Brynn Boren and Kata Szekely of Tennessee in two sets, 6-2, 6-2 at the 2013 NCAA DI Women's Tennis Doubles Championship in Urbana, Ill.
Saturday's loss brought the 2013 season to a close for the Arizona State Sun Devils. A season that saw team play end with a 17-6 overall record and a 6-4 finish in Pac-12 Conference play. A winning percentage of .739 -- one of the best seasons since 2001 when the team went 20-6 and earned a spot in the NCAA Quarterfinals, the best season on record numbers wise under the direction of Head Coach Sheila McInerney. In 1986 the squad also amassed a winning percentage of .750, a 21-7 record and a Quarterfinals appearance.
Getting to the quarterfinals was no easy task for Arizona State -- the pairing started off knocking Breaunna Addison and Noel Scott of Texas in three sets, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2, to advance to the Sweet 16. The next day Cako and Smith defeated Isaura Enrique and Samantha Vickers of Tulsa 6-3, 6-4.
"We played the best doubles all year this weekend and there is no better way to end the season," senior Nicole Smith said. "It was a fun week and a great experience, and I know that we're both really happy."
Smith's teammate felt much of the same pride for their performance.
"I played some of my best tennis ever here and was really happy to get as far as we did in doubles this year because Nikki (Smith) really deserves it after what she's been through and to get to see her excitement really added to my happiness," Jacqueline Cako said.
While the defeat knocked the last standing ASU marking on the bracket board, McInerney could not have been any more happy with what her team was able to do this season.
"While the score may not have indicated it, this was a very competitive, well played match and our girls were right in there. Tennessee played a lot of competition and quite a bit of match play in both singles and doubles," McInerney said. "Overall, the team played well and I feel this experience will help us in two weeks time when Jacqueline (Cako) and Nikki (Smith) will be gone."
The road to the final match for Cako and Smith started back in the first match of the 2013 season, when the two last-names merged into one team, competing at the No. 1 spot all season. In prior instances, Cako paired off with different teammates while Smith did much of the same. Emotions and memories stirred as the pairing recognized the fact that it was the last time they would share the same side of the net.
"We continued to get closer as the season grew on but this week has made us the closest. Getting to this point was a huge accomplishment for myself and getting to share it with her is something I will always remember," Smith said. "The NCAA Tournament will be my greatest memory of this year. I'm exhausted but couldn't be more proud of myself and happy for both Jacqueline (Cako) and I."
NCAA Tournament play in Illinois not only added great memories and experiences, but multiple accolades as well. Senior Jacqueline Cako earned her third straight All-American status in singles play and another All-American honor in doubles to boot. Nikki Smith earned All-American status in doubles along side Cako after making it to the Sweet 16 Thursday afternoon.
"It's a bittersweet feeling to realize that my college career is over. I'm going to miss collegiate tennis and the coaches since they've been unbelievable but I'm really excited to be starting the next chapter of my life and seeing where my pro career will go," Cako said.
The All-American designation is the first for Smith, an honor that she cherishes greatly when reflecting upon the struggles in her collegiate career. The senior missed multiple matches and a full season after suffering injuries and allowing time for rest and recovery with surgeries that followed.
"I've had a few successes in the past that are as big of an accomplishment as my All-American status, but because of everything I've had to go through to get here, there is nothing that compares to this feeling," Smith said. "From being so close to not playing this year to earning All-American status is one of the proudest moments of my life so far."
With summer finally upon the last-two competing Sun Devils, plans for each senior contain exciting moments to look forward to. Cako's plans include the beginning of a professional career, while Smith's is yet to be defined.
"As for what I do next year, who knows, I really don't know myself yet," Smith said. "I'll see what happens this summer and go from there."
Cako will use the Whiteman Tennis Center in Tempe, Ariz., the same courts where she has spent the last three years of her life to continue to train for the professional circuit.
"I'm really excited to be starting the next chapter of my life and seeing where my pro career will go," Cako said. "I'm switching gears so quickly that it hasn't quite hit me since I'm starting my first professional tournament on Tuesday."
When the team re-groups in late summer to enter organized practice for the fall season, everyone knows the void that the three seniors will leave. McInerney was sure to make sure they all would be remembered for the time to come.
"We will miss them next year but are so happy that they ended on such a high note in the tournament and earned All-American honors. I know we all are extremely excited for them," McInerney said.