Originally created 05/23/00

Lady dogs take tennis title



MALIBU, Calif. -- It took six years and five hours, but the Georgia Lady Bulldogs have another title in women's tennis.

Second-ranked Georgia shocked No. 1 Stanford 5-4 Sunday at Pepperdine University to win its second NCAA Division I title. The last time the Lady Bulldogs reached the final -- in 1994 in Athens -- they also beat the Cardinal 5-4.

Georgia won the championship in a tiebreaker at No. 1 doubles. With the other doubles matches finished and the entire crowd focused on Court 1, Georgia's Marissa Catlin and Lori Grey fought off a rally by the team of Marissa Irvin-Teryn Ashley to win 9-8 (7-3).

Catlin and Grey looked like they were going to win easily as they built a 6-1 lead. But Irvin and Ashley rallied to take a 7-6 lead. Georgia then held serve to make it 7-all before breaking to make it 8-7. Stanford then broke back to force the tiebreaker.

"We had to go after it," said Catlin, a senior. "We knew we were up against a pretty good team, and we knew it was up to us, and we didn't want to let this team down. We set ourself up to be national champions, and we just went for it."

The teams were tied 3-3 entering doubles. The Lady Bulldogs (27-2) got three upsets -- Aarthi Venkatesan over the top-ranked Irvin at No. 1 and Catlin's straight-set win over No. 9 Lauren Kalvaria at No. 3 -- to go with Anne Nguyen's win over No. 321 Kelko Tokouda at No. 6.

Vankatesan won the first set 6-3, then lost the second 7-5. She rallied in the third, however, and shocked Irvin, the favorite to win the championship in this week's individual competition.

"Aarthi virtually had the match won in two sets, but then Irvin caught fire and won some great games," said Georgia coach Jeff Wallace, who was named ITA coach of the year Sunday. "The crowd was thinking, `That's it, Irvin's going to go on and win right now.' But they don't know Aarthi like I know Aarthi, and she kept fighting and going after it."

Venkatesan lost in three sets to Irvin in the teams' meeting in February at the USTA indoor tournament. She also lost Saturday, to Whitney Laiho, in Georgia's 5-2 win over Florida in the semifinals.

"This is hard for me to say, but I believe (Irvin) is much more talented than I am," Venkatesan said. "In my mind, I wanted to be good, just for these couple of hours, for the team. I wanted to be better."

Stanford's Gabriela Lastra sent the match into doubles tied with a 6-2, 6-7 (8-6), 6-1 win over Grey at No. 4 singles. Grey fought off a 2-5 deficit in the second set, but Lastra, ranked No. 60, was too much in the third.,

Catlin got the Lady Bulldogs' first point of the match with a 7-5, 7-6 (7-2) upset of ninth-ranked Lauren Kalvaria at No. 3 singles. It was Catlin's first win over a top-10 opponent this season, and it tied the match 1-1.

Stanford (30-1), which was bidding for its 11th national title, beat Florida last year for the championship. The Cardinal had won 48 matches in a row and had only lost two team points in the previous five matches.

"Georgia was outstanding," Stanford coach Frank Brennan said. "(The Bulldogs) came out and really competed well. Upsets happen. Maybe they were inspired by us a little bit last year. They rose to the challenge."

Georgia's Wallace said, "Three weeks ago, I got a call from a reporter, and he said, `Some of the coaches around the country I've talked to are saying Stanford is unbeatable.'

"I said, `If I say Stanford's unbeatable, then I should be fired right now.' We felt like we could beat (the Cardinal). We've done it before and we could do it again."

Esther Knox, Grey, Catlin and Venkatesan are representing Georgia in the singles and doubles tournaments that began Monday.

Chris Branam is a sports writer for The Los Angeles Times.