May 21, 2008
Tulsa, Okla.- Freshman Katie Rybakova did not get the appropriate ending to what's been a fairytale season, but the rookie from Coral Springs, Fla., put up a tough fight before succumbing to USC's Gabriela Niculescu 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(10-8)in the first round of the NCAA Singles Championship.
"It was a heartbreaking loss for Katie today no question," said head coach Jennifer Hyde. "I'm really proud of her. Anytime a freshman goes into a championship environment there might be some jitterbugs, but she did a great job calming herself through the duration of the match. She took her time and didn't allow things to get away from her mentally or emotionally."
Rybakova fell behind in the first set, eventually falling 4-6. But the Russian-native rallied back in the second set to post a 6-4 win and force a third set. From there, the two competitors engaged in a brutal give-and-take battle. Rybakova went up 6-5 with the chance to serve for the win, but Niculescu came back and forced the match to move into a tiebreak.
Florida State's freshman phenom came on strong to start the tiebreak, going up 6-3 at one point with a chance to win the match. But Niculescu wasn't finished, battling back to even. Rybakova went up again 7-6, but could not seal the deal. Niculescu then climbed on top with an 8-7 lead, but Rybakova fired back to tie it at eight.
Unfortunately, it would be the last point of the freshman's brilliant season as Niculescu punched two more points in for the victory.
"She was down 2-4 in the third and she found a way to get up," said Hyde. "I have to give credit to Gabriela, when she went down 3-6 in the breaker she just stepped it up. It wasn't like Katie gave up the win, her opponent came back and took. I think experience may have been the difference at that point in the match."
Rybakova's first season at Florida State comes to a close with an impressive 28-12 overall record as well as a 18-7 dual match record. She was the only rookie to see playing time at court one where she pulverized a pair of top 15 opponents during the regular season.
"Katie did well," said Hyde. "She had a game plan and she stuck to it. She played a fantastic match and she put herself in a position to win at the NCAA Tournament--no matter who you are, that's a great feat. Her opponent really just stepped it up when it mattered the most. It was a great experience for her and it was not the last time she's going to be at this tournament. Once we get past this loss we can continue to look forward to the future."