Editor's Note: This story first appeared in The Daily Texan's February 9 print edition.
Texas women’s tennis seemed poised to make program history late Sunday night at the ITA National Indoor Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
The No. 3 Longhorns beat No. 13 Northwestern on Friday. They beat No. 2 UCLA on Saturday. Then, Sunday, after a delay pushed the final against No. 1 North Carolina three hours, Texas came out swinging, winning the doubles point handily and taking a 3-2 lead.
But as the match extended past midnight, the train came off the tracks as the Longhorns fell in two third-sets in both of the final singles matches to lose 4-3 in a heartbreaking fashion.
“(We) unraveled,” head coach Howard Joffe said. “We were leaking oil all the way home.”
Texas held leads in the two final singles matches and only needed one win to take home the title. But freshman Charlotte Chavatipon couldn’t hold on to a 4-0 lead in her second set, losing a tiebreaker before dropping the third set. Senior Fernanda Labraña jumped out to a 4-1 lead in her third set but lost five straight games.
Despite the loss, Texas took a massive step forward last weekend, proving it belongs in championship contention.
The last time the Longhorns played in the finals match of the Indoor Championships was 2006.
“We've ended well inside the top 10 for at least the last three years,” Joffe said. “But we've never really advanced to the final stages of either Indoor (Championships) or the NCAA (Championships). Our tennis didn't let us down. We got the best of ourselves and the circumstances.”
This season, Texas brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. Then in the fall, the team added freshman Lulu Sun and in January brought on mid-year addition freshman Kylie Collins to round out the talented group of newcomers.
The duo of Sun and Collins took down the No. 1 and No. 3 ranked doubles teams in the nation on Saturday and Sunday. Top recruit and freshman Peyton Stearns instantly jumped to slot at the team’s top singles spot.
But Sunday was a reminder of the team’s inexperience with the dual-match format and a “super-duper valuable lesson,” Joffe said.
“What you can't put a price on is the format of college tennis, where there's six simultaneous matches going on,” Joffe said. “Over the years, I’ve had many players tell me that the dynamic is different. … In that respect, we are very, very inexperienced.”
While the team might be made up of a majority of freshmen, several of the players that have defined Joffe’s current run as head coach are still Longhorns. Fifth-year senior Anna Turati battled back from a 5-1 deficit in her second set to win Sunday after losing both Saturday and Friday.
With the combination of veterans like Turati and Labraña along with the talented newcomers like Stearns and Chavatipon, sky's the limit for this Texas team who proved it in the first half of their match against North Carolina.
“I literally just kind of started laughing,” Brian Kalbas, North Carolina head coach, said of his reaction after losing the doubles point to Texas. “Sometimes you (have) to give credit where credit is due, and they were just too good.”