Lady Netters in Sweet 16

The Lady Vol tennis squad beat Virginia 4-1 on Sunday, propelling the Big Orange into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the seventh consecutive time.

UT, seeded seventh, improved to 22-6 with the victory, while UVa ended the 2003 campaign with a 16-10 record.

The doubles was tightly contested, but the Lady Vols squeaked out a pair of wins at the Nos. 1 and 3 slots. Their first victory was at three, where Tammy Encina and sophomore Breanna Kray posted a quick 8-2 decision over Lauren Bruch and Kyle Montgomery. Despite the win, things looked bleak for the Orange and White, as it trailed 5-2 and 5-3 on courts one and two.

With their backs against the walls, the Lady Volunteers rallied to tie things up on both courts at 5-5. At the top spot, UT senior Vilmarie Castellvi and freshman Melissa Schaub, the nation's No. 5-rated duo, ended up clinching the doubles point by an 8-6 count after trailing 4-0 in the early goings to No. 38 Jennifer Tuchband and Henriette Williams. At No. 2 doubles, Tennessee senior Crystal Cleveland and rookie Sabita Maharaj's contest with Kristen James and Lori Stern was suspended before the start of a tiebreaker.

Virginia tied the match at 1-1 when Stern recorded a 6-3, 6-0 triumph over Schaub at the No. 4 hole in singles. The loss dropped the Lexington, Ohio, native's mark to 22-17 this season and 16-10 in dual matches.

From there, the Lady Vols seized the momentum back and proved to be the victors in the next three matches that finished. Their first conquest was at five singles, where Maharaj registered her second win of the tourney, 6-2, 6-3, versus Dora Bechliwanis. Maharaj is now 16-13 this season and has won five of her last seven matchups.

The No. 51-ranked Cleveland came up with the next Lady Vol victory at three. The Delray Beach, Fla., native sent James packing with a straight-set, 6-2, 6-2, defeat while improving to 33-8 this season and 24-3 in dual matches. Cleveland's 24 victories in duals tied Castellvi for the team lead and broke her previous career mark of 23 set during her freshman campaign.

Encina's victory to clinch the match did not come easily at the second position. The nation's 59th-rated player trailed No. 70 Tuchband, 4-1, in the first set before taking the next five games for a 6-4 win. Encina got off to a slow start in the second frame as well and trailed 3-1 after four games. However, after claiming four of the next five games, Encina served out the contest to improve to 23-14 and 15-9 in duals.

It will be a battle for supremacy in the state of Tennessee on Thursday in Gainesville, Fla., as UT and Vanderbilt will meet for the third time this year. The Orange and White took both contests by scores of 4-3 and 4-1. It will also mark the second consecutive year that Tennessee and Vandy have butted heads in the Round of 16. Last year, UT upset the sixth-seeded Commodores' 4-2, en route to its first Final Four. Vanderbilt is seeded No. 10 this year.

''It‚s always special to make it to the Sweet 16,'' said UT Co-Head Coach Mike Patrick, who has been at the helm of every Sweet 16 and NCAA appearance for the Lady Vols. ''The Round of 16 is difficult no matter who you play. We always have good matches with Vanderbilt and this one will be no different.''

The team portion of the NCAA Championships, hosted by the University of Florida, takes place May 15-18. The singles and doubles tournaments begin after the team champion has been crowned on May 19 and 20. The individual championship matches are scheduled for May 24. UT has a school record three challengers for the singles title with Castellvi, Cleveland and Encina. Castellvi and Schaub are Tennessee's lone doubles team in the tournament.

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