TEMPE -- In undoubtedly one of the most competitive matches yet this season, the No. 25 Arizona State University Sun Devils (16-2; Pac-12 3-0) women's tennis team defeated the visiting No. 50 Washington State Cougars, 4-2, in Pac-12 conference play on Saturday afternoon at the Whiteman Tennis Center in Tempe, Ariz.
The Sun Devils were able to strike first earning the doubles point to start the morning, which ended up being extremely important as the match wore on. The momentum teetered back and forth all day as the two teams exchanged the overall match lead twice before Arizona State's Desirae Krawczyk was able to put away her Cougar opponent and capture the fourth overall point for ASU, securing the victory.
"It was a hard fought battle," ASU Head Coach Sheila McInerney said. "I give Washington State a lot of credit, I think they competed very well and they're a really feisty team, they always do a really good job and play hard."
That battle started with two victories in doubles play on courts number two and three, with Stephanie Vlad and Joanna Smith topping Charlotte Koning and Dajana Ognjenovic of Washington State 8-3 on the third court, and Alexandra Osborne and Leighann Sahagun hanging on to beat Washington State's Olga Musilovich and Maria Biryukova 8-6 on the second.
And that second win came just in time -- over on the first court, Washington State's Elizaveta Luzina and Lize Leenknect were nearing the end of their match with Arizona State's Desirae Krawczyk and Kassidy Jump, with WSU leading 7-6.
Although the sequence of events worked out in ASU's favor, McInerney was not completely satisfied with her team's doubles performance. From under her trademark visor, the head coach saw a team playing on the defensive.
"I think we were playing not to lose rather than to win in doubles. Fortunately for us we were able to squeak that win out," McInerney said.
The capturing of the doubles point marked the first lead change in the match, with the second coming shortly thereafter. To open singles, both Stephanie Vlad and Leighann Sahagun fell to their opponents to give Washington State the 2-1 advantage.
Vlad, who had not recorded a singles "L" in the record book since February 15 against Pepperdine, was bested by Elizaveta Luzina in two quick 6-1 sets. The loss, which snapped an eight match individual win streak came as a bit of a surprise as Luzina is unranked while Vlad carried a No. 50 ranking.
"I struggled today," sophomore Stephanie Vlad said. "I felt like I was trying to construct the points, but I would get to a point in the rally and then just miss balls...I knew she wasn't going to miss a lot and she just kept putting balls back in play."
Maria Biryukova's defeat of junior Leighann Sahagun on the third court, 6-1, 6-3, snapped Sahagun's three match individual win streak as well.
With Washington State on top 2-1 at that point in the afternoon, it was still anyone's match. Freshman Kassidy Jump and sophomore Ebony Panoho pulled through in their matches however, giving ASU a quick two point swing and putting the Sun Devils back on top 3-2.
Jump defeated Olga Musilovich 6-3, 6-2 on the fourth court while Panoho added another win to her tally, topping Dajana Ognjenovic 6-3, 6-2 on the fifth court.
"It was nice that Ebony (Panoho) and Kassidy (Jump) were both able to get off the court pretty quickly," McInerney said.
With Arizona State up by one and needing one more point, two matches remained and they each needed a third set to make a decision. Just as Panoho's match finished up, Joanna Smith battled back to win her second set 6-4 and force her match into a third set rather than giving up the tying point.
That fact allowed Krawczyk to stay calm and dominate Washington State's Lize Leenknecht in the third set, winning 6-1 after dropping the first 5-7 and narrowly winning the second 6-4.
"In the first set, she (Leenknecht) was getting balls back and I wasn't being patient," Krawczyk said. "I was going for balls I shouldn't have been going for...but knowing that Joanna (Smith) was still playing helped me a lot in the third set."
With Krawcyk's match-clinching win, Smith's match was retired with the Sun Devil on top 2-1 in the final set.
The win marked the tenth straight for the Sun Devils, who saw their last defeat on a scoreboard nearly two months ago and have managed to stay undefeated both at home and in Pac-12 conference play.
ASU will have very little time to enjoy their win however, a full week of practice leading up to their toughest competition yet is in store for the senior-less squad. The Sun Devils will face conference rivals Cal and Stanford this weekend on the road -- and they know they need to bring their best.
"I think it's always good to play some nail biters and win like we did today," McInerney added. "Every match we're going to play is going to be tough, and we're taking on Cal and Stanford who are clearly ranked much higher than us. So I think we need to out there and look to be a little bit more aggressive than we've been so far."
ASU will take on Cal in Berkely, Calif. on Friday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. PDT and Stanford the following day at noon.
No. 25 Arizona State University 4 :: No. 50 Washington State 2
Whiteman Tennis Center
10:30 a.m. MST