No one ever wants to have to make a comeback. Falling into an early deficit and having to battle back is never the goal — but if the team can pull it off, it makes for a thrilling victory.
William and Mary rallied from a two-point deficit to overcome Virginia Tech in a rousing 4-3 victory Saturday that came down to the final match.
With the match hanging in the balance, senior Anik Cepeda prevailed over the Hokies’ Carol Kahoun in three sets to clinch the Tribe victory. All other matches were finished, and the score stood at a 3-3 tie. Cepeda had claimed the first set 6-4, but Kahoun stormed back in the second, 6-3, forcing a third and deciding set.
Cepeda found her rhythm early in the third set and never looked back, cruising to a 6-1 third set victory that allowed the Tribe (6-2, 1-0 CAA) to squeak out a 4-3 win.
Head coach Tyler Thomson found Cepeda’s clutch performance especially impressive considering her health.
“[Cepeda] had a stomach flu for a few days leading up to match … She kind of got on the girl early in the third set … and she really didn’t give this girl a chance to get back in the match,” Thomson said.
Cepeda’s victory was the final salvo in a lengthy Tribe comeback. The College fell behind early after dropping the doubles point. The nationally ranked No. 3 doubles tandem of juniors Maria Belaya and Jeltje Loomans dispatched Virginia Tech’s Ilinca Stoica and Kelly Williford, 8-5, in the No. 1 spot, but they were the only College duo to claim victory.
Junior Hope Johnson and freshman Leeza Nemchinov fell to their Hokie counterparts, 8-2 in the No. 2 spot to tie the quest for the doubles point at one apiece, which made the No. 3 match a deciding factor. Cepeda and junior Sydney Smith fell in a closely contested match in the No. 3 spot, 8-7 (5), allowing the Hokies to win the doubles point and garner a 1-0 advantage.
“We’ve been fortunate to come back and win a couple of our matches after losing the doubles point. … It take a lot of pressure off you if you can win the doubles point because you only have to win three singles matches as opposed to four … The most important [thing] for our team is at that we continue to improve on doubles and we may keep tinkering with our lineup to find more success at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles,” Thomson said.
The action then turned to singles play, where Virginia Tech’s Tea Ivanovic increased the Hokies’ lead to two with a victory over Smith in the No. 6 position, 6-0, 6-1. Loomans then put the College on the board with a win over Isel Martinez-Marcos 6-4, 6-1.
Williford downed Johnson at the No. 4 position, 6-3, 6-4, to give the Hokies a commanding 3-1 lead with three matches still undecided. The College would need to win all three to leave Blacksburg with a victory.
The comeback began at the No. 3 position, where Nemchinov knocked off Virginia Tech’s Raluca Mita with relative ease, 6-2, 6-4. Attention then shifted to the No.1 position, where an epic battle between Belaya and Stoica was brewing.
Belaya dominated the first set, 6-1, but Stoica cruised through the second set 6-3 to even the match at one set apiece. In the final set, Belaya overpowered Sotica en route to a 6-2 final set victory, which tied the overall match at 3-3.
“[Belaya] had been struggling a little bit, and the key for her is to really stay consistent throughout the match, both with her game and with her competitiveness and attitude, and she did a great job of that,” Thomson said. “She won the first set, lost the second set, and she could have let it get to her, but she came out with a great attitude to start the third set and got on the girl early enough so that she got discouraged.”
After Belaya tied the match at 3-3, Cepeda finished the comeback with her rousing victory over Kahoun.
The win stands both as the College’s second straight victory, and as another marker of the squad’s improvement and early season success. The Tribe has recorded six victories — two of them against ranked opponents — and hopes to replicate the formula for success it has found so far this season.
“The most defining element of the match from our standpoint was the fact that we competed really well,” Thomson said. “We stayed positive and faced some adversity. … The attitude needed to be right in order to win the match, and we did a really good job with that.”