Led by senior Beatrice Capra, the Blue Devils will travel down Tobacco Road this weekend to face their first stiff early-season test.
After registering solid performances at the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships—a nine-day tournament held in Pacific Palisades, Calif., two weeks ago—Duke will compete in the USTA/ITA Regional tournament, which runs Thursday through Monday in Chapel Hill. As a stepping stone to the ITA National Championships in November, this weekend’s tournament will also allow the Blue Devils to build on the good impressions they made in California and take on conference opponents that they will face in the spring.
“The group that was out there in California got a lot of matches and I was fairly happy with some of the play we had,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We were able to see some of the competition and what we need to do [to improve.] That motivated them to come back and get better and have a good two weeks of practice before we start tomorrow. This tournament is a good opportunity to establish where we are among some ACC schools that we are going to play later in the year.”
In singles competition at the Riviera/ITA tournament, Capra—ranked 71st in the country—beat Fresno State’s Sophie Watts (6-2, 6-0) and Florida’s Brianna Morgan (7-5, 7-6) but fell to Ohio State’s Francesca di Lorenzo (2-6, 2-6). Freshman Ellyse Hamlin notched two narrow wins against Gabriela Talaba of Texas Tech (7-6, 7-5) and defeated Arizona’s Lauren Marker (6-3, 6-4) but was taken down by first-seeded Jasmine Lee of Mississippi State (4-6, 1-6).
The two other Duke freshmen participating in California—Kaitlyn McCarthy and Jessica Ho—had a short run in the tournament but will attempt to bounce back this weekend. McCarthy fell to fifth-seeded Stephanie Nauta of Virginia (4-6, 5-7) after taking down Southern California’s Gabby Smith in three sets and Ho was outlasted by Arkansas’ Shannon Hudson in the pre-qualifying round.
“[After the tournament], I told them, ‘You can’t be satisfied with how you did. You have to use it to motivate you to get better,’” Ashworth said. “I thought that all three competed well and showed that they can compete on the highest levels in college tennis. Now they have to build on that as we move forward this weekend and the next couple weeks of the fall. [They can still improve] their decision making. It has to be better and cleaner. And they have to be more efficient.”
In doubles, the duo of Capra and Hamlin—ranked 39th in the nation—reached the quarterfinals in the Riviera/ITA All-American tournament and was scheduled to play together again this weekend. Newcomers McCarthy and Ho will compete in the Regionals alongside sophomore Samantha Harris and junior Chalena Scholl, respectively. Sophomore Rebecca Smaller and junior Alyssa Smith form the fourth Duke tandem hitting the road Thursday.
“Our level of ground for doubles right now is higher than it was a year ago,” Ashworth said. “So our ceiling and expectations should be higher.”
As the lone senior in a squad consisting mostly of underclassmen, Capra has stepped out of her comfort zone and into a leadership role.
“People are going to follow what [Capra] does, whether it’s on the court or off the court and she’s handled that role well,” Ashworth said. “The more we play, the better she is getting at it and the more comfortable she’s getting with it. She doesn’t have the personality of a ‘rah-rah,’ screaming, yelling kind of leader, but she sets such a good example with her work ethic and play that people strive to be like that.”