This one was one for the ages, a classic among classics and a first for the Boise State women's tennis program.
Coach Mark Tichenor's Broncos overcame unbelievable odds to post a 4-3 victory over the #24 Alabama Crimson Tide in the opening round of the NCAA Tennis Championships in Athens, Georgia. It is the first time that the Boise State women have won an NCAA tournament match. And it came on the heels of a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to #25 Fresno State in the Western Athletic Conference championship.
The first sign that Boise State had learned from that late collapse against Fresno and not dwelled on it came when Pichittra Thongdach and Lauren Megale knocked off the #46 doubles team in the country, Alabama's Tiffany Welcher and Courtney McLane. Thongdach and Megale got a late break to go up 6-5 then, after holding serve to lead 7-5, they got another break to win the match 8-5. When Vivien Silfany and Klaudia Wlodarczyk easily won their match 8-3, the Broncos collected the doubles point.
Thongdach and Silfany won their first sets to put additional pressure on Alabama. However, in this unbelievable match of ebbs and flows and huge momentum shifts, Shelley Godwin defeated Laura Baum in the first set at #6 singles. When Bianca Jochimsen lost 6-4 in the first set and Wlodarczyk was broken in the final game of the first set to lose 6-4, the Tide was indeed rolling during this stretch. Megale went down too 7-5 and Alabama effectively took everything Boise State did in doubles action and stuffed it in the trash can.
The second sets, however, belonged to the Blue and Orange. Silfany set an example for her teammates by taking the second set 6-3 to win her match and put Boise State up 2-0. Baum was able to rebound 6-0 to force a third set at #6. And yet this match was oh so tenuous. At one point in the second set, the scores of the #1, #2, #3 and #5 singles were:
5-5, 1-1, 4-4 and 3-3
and the game scores were:
40-40, 40-40, 30-30, and 40-30.
Thongdach's second set was especially memorable and was a major reason the Broncos are celebrating now. She was down 3-0 and 4-1 only to fight back to win 7-5. Coach Tichenor's crew was up 3-0 and just one match away from the sweetness of victory. Baum went up two breaks at 4-1 in the third set and Boise State was just two games away from a win. All she had to do was hold service one of her two remaining times and she and the Broncos would advance. But in this classic tennis match against a great opponent, it wasn't going to be that easy.
Godwin came back. Unbelievably, she captured six of seven games to win the third set and the match 7-5. Jochimsen lost 6-4, 7-5 and the Crimson Tide had two points on the scoreboard. Wlodarczyk got down 5-4 and at that point, it looked like it would come down to Megale's match at #2 singles. Klaudia held service to tie the second set at 5. Megale captured her second set 6-2. Wlodarczyk then broke service and would be serving for the set. However, she was forced to deuce. If she couldn't come through, it would be all on Megale and would be a 50-50 proposition with either team having a chance. Klaudia lost serve and as it turned out, the match was on the line. With a thrilling 7-5 tie-breaker, she miraculously was able to stave off defeat and force a third set.
It's a good thing, because Megale was in trouble. With the huge southern crowd converging on the two remaining courts, the 'Bama fans tried to rattle the Bronco women. Lauren lost a break early and got down 5-3. She needed to win two straight games, but it was not to be as McLane broke her again to win the set and match 6-3. The scoreboard now read Boise State 3, Alabama 3.
All eyes were on Court #5. Wlodarczyk was tied at 2 and faced deuce but was able to win two straight points to go up 3-2. Building off that momentum, Klaudia broke service to go up 4-2. Again the Broncos had a clear path to victory. Even that didn't hold up in this wild match.
Lindsey got the break back in the very next game. As this match and the entire Boise State-Alabama match turned back and forth on a dime, the eighth game of the third set was a thriller. Lindsey served at deuce and Klaudia got the point. Lindsey brought it back to deuce, then Klaudia got the advantage. She couldn't finish her off. Lindsey fought back to deuce and then took the advantage herself. Klaudia brought it back to deuce and then got the advantage for the third time. This time, Wlodarczyk came through with the winner and the break to go up 5-3. She served for the match.
The ninth game featured a 30-40 advantage for Lindsey, three deuces, an advantage for Wlodarczyk and finally three straight points for Lindsey. For the fourth consecutive game, the student-athlete serving could not hold serve. And it was 5-4 with Lindsey serving.
The 10th game of the third set in a match that had gone on so long (4 hours and 29 minutes) that the Georgia-South Carolina match began on the other three courts was for Laura Baum. Almost forgotten in this thrilling match at #5 singles was the disappointment over an hour ago that Baum experienced. Wlodarczyk was aggressive in defending Lindsey's serve, and quickly had her down 40-15. Boise State was one point away from the upset.
And this time, it happened. Klaudia responded with a winner to take the set and match 6-4. Boise State had done it--they'd defeated mighty Alabama in one of the most thrilling matches in Boise State history. And they made history, with their first-ever NCAA tournament win.
The victorious Broncos earned this one. They'll rest up for a match against the winner of the Georgia-South Carolina State contest. The Bulldogs are the #2 team in the land. But they're not any happier than a bunch of heroines from Boise!