Nancy Harris is convinced that the further her 13th-ranked Clemson women's tennis team advances into the NCAA tournament, the better it will get.
Chuck McCuen felt the same about his Clemson men's team.
By the narrow margin of college tennis' brutal 4-3 dividing line, the Tigers' women will be moving on, while the men finished a breakthrough season with a bitter taste in their mouths after a down-to-the-wire loss to sixth-ranked Tennessee.
Harris' Tigers will have a chance to prove her point after advancing to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 with an uphill-all-the-way 4-2 victory over Vanderbilt in a second round match on Saturday at Clemson's Hoke Sloan Tennis Center.
The Clemson women, 16-7, will advance to the final stage of the NCAA tournament play, which will begin on May 16 at the Kahn Tennis Complex in Urbana, Ill.
“This is a wonderful team,” said Harris. “They’re young, they’re exciting, and they’re very talented. The team just has great chemistry. I’m thrilled that we have the opportunity to play in the Sweet 16. The more rounds we go through as a young team, the better we will be in the future.”
Nearly six hours after the first serve and following a two-hour rain delay, sophomore Beatrice Gumulya delivered the Tigers' knockout punch when she broke Georgina Sellyn's serve at-love to clinch a three-set victory and push the Tigers to their 4-2 win.
After taking the first set, Gumulya went down with cramps. Clemson's trainer, Monica Lopes, was called to her side, and the coaching staff and Lopes urged Gumulya to continue to hydrate as she stretched.
"Bea just has such courage," said Harris. "In that type of situation, Bea is the one you want out there. She never gives up. That was the key to the win today."
Out of the timeout, Gumulya was physically unable to serve, even trying to go underhand at one point. Sellyn would break, cutting the margin to 5-3, and then serving to further trim the margin.
But Gumulya bounced back, rattled off the next four points to break Sellyn, and then was mobbed by teammates.
Clemson dropped the opening doubles point, and then fell behind 2-0 when Vanderbilt's Marie Casares blitzed the Tigers' Romy Koelzer 6-1, 6-0 in the No. 4 singles match.
The Tigers battled back and evened the score at 2-2 with straight-set victories by Yana Koroleva and Liz Jeukeng at the top two singles spots.
The remaining three matches went to third sets.
Freshman Ani Maio bounced back from a first-set loss and beat Ashleigh Antal at No. 5, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, to put the Tigers ahead 3-2.
"We were in trouble after the doubles, and the singles weren’t going fabulous, but we refused to go away as a team," Harris said. "We’ve talked about that all year, and our girls kept battling and came through.
Like the women, the Clemson men's match against Tennessee was disrupted by rain.
Shortly after the doubles portion of the match began, a string of thunderstorms advanced through the Knoxville area. After checking weather radar, officials moved the match indoors.
Clemson struck the first blow by winning the doubles point, setting up an uphill battle for the Vols.
They proved up to the task, as they claimed victories at four of the six singles spot.
With the match tied 3-3, Clemson's Gerardo Meza and UT's Brandon Fickey battled for the right to advance to the final 16.
Fickey's serve was broken by Meza to begin their dramatic third set, but Fickey later broke back to put things back on serve at 2-2.
At the end, with Meza serving, down 4-5 but on-serve, Fickey sent the crowd into a frenzy by breaking Meza at love, as the Clemson junior hit three straight forehands into the net.