AZUSA, Calif. -- Senior Jessalyn Lau came within 1 point of saving the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific from an upset bid by No. 10-ranked Vanguard, which rallied for 4 consecutive 3-set singles wins to knock off the Cougars, 5-4, Friday afternoon at the Munson & Bavougian Tennis Complex.
After dropping the No. 6 singles opening set to Vanguard’s Ekaterina Gabashvili, 6-3, Lau forced the third set by winning a second-set tiebreaker on her sixth set point. Facing a 4-3 deficit, Lau scored 8 of the next 10 points for a crucial service break before holding serve to take a 5-4 lead.
With the next game tied at deuce, Lau slipped while stretching for a shot to her forehand side, losing her racket and crashing to the ground as she waited for Gabashvili to smash her lob at the net. However, Gabashvili hit the uncontested smash wide, giving Lau a chance to break serve once more for both the individual and team victories.
Despite giving Lau match point, Gabashvili responded with 3 straight points to win the game and tie the set at 5-5. Gabashvili didn’t concede another point the rest of the way, a run of 11 straight points that completed Vanguard’s comeback with a 6-3, 6-7 (9-11), 7-5 win.
After taking 2 of the 3 doubles matches, Azusa Pacific posted straight-set victories at the No. 4 and 5 singles positions to take a promising 4-1 lead with 4 singles matches remaining. Junior Casey Wetzig posted her 11th straight singles win, a quick 6-1, 6-0 victory at No. 4 over Anna Valingsten, and sophomore Emily Ignas was close behind with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Brittnie Furuvald at No. 5.
Of the remaining 4 matches, Azusa Pacific won the first set in only 1 match, with sophomore Leah Hoffee taking the opening set from Kateryna Malakhova by a 7-5 margin. Malakhova, who also dropped the opening set in a 3-set battle with Hoffee that lasted over 4 hours when the 2 first met this season, came back to win the remaining 2 sets, 6-3 and 6-2, to send the fate of the match to the result of the No. 6 singles battle between Lau and Gabashvili.
Junior Sheryl Bon and sophomore Natalie McNall each won the second set after dropping the first, but both suffered 3-set defeats at the No. 1 and 2 singles positions. Bon and McNall also suffered the Cougars' lone doubles defeat, dropping an 8-3 decision to Malakhova and Gabriela Bergmanova at No. 1 doubles. Hoffee and Wetzig improved to 11-3 at No. 2 doubles with an 8-6 win over Betyel Tesfa and Valingsten, and Ignas teamed up with junior Marie Tanaka for an 8-1 win at No. 3.
With the loss, just its second at home this year, Azusa Pacific drops to 11-5 overall and 7-5 in GSAC play, while Vanguard improves to 11-6 overall, 7-6 GSAC. The Cougars are back in action on Monday, April 12, hosting the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Fresno Pacific at 1:30 p.m. at the Munson & Bavougian Tennis Complex.