Calm overcame a feisty performance Sunday as Stephanie Harges of USC defeated UCLA's Jane Thomas, 6-2, 7-5, in the final of the Rolex ITCA Southern California Collegiate Women's Tennis Championships at UC Irvine.
Harges, a sophomore, kept her composure despite Thomas' continual whirlwind of spins, slams and shouts.
"It (the match) was pretty nerve-racking," Harges said. "It could have gone either way."
Harges, playing the baseline for most of the match, foiled many of Thomas' attempts at drop shots and overhead smashes. When Thomas ran to the net, Harges returned with a perfect corner lob. When Thomas stayed back, Harges drove the ball down the sideline out of her opponent's reach.
Thomas continually voiced her frustrations, cursing herself and the court, while almost apologizing to the crowd.
"God, I'm pathetic," she shouted after double-faulting in the first set. Moments later, after slicing a forehand into the net: "Don't miss another one, I'm gonna kill you."
All of this didn't seem to fluster Harges, who kept her emotions in check by tapping her leg between serves.
"Some people function in different ways," Harges said. "Maybe that's what it takes to motivate her. It's better for me to stay calm, though. I just pat my knee to remind myself to stay cool."
Thomas began a comeback in the second set. She replayed many of the overhead and slice shots attempted in the first set, and this time they worked. So much so, in fact, that she jumped to a 4-1 lead.
Then USC Coach Dave Borelli sent Harges a wake-up call.
"I was just playing and didn't realize how far I'd dropped," Harges said. "Dave yelled, 'Steph, you're losing intensity.' I realized I had to wake up."
So after a short drum roll on her knee, Harges perked up. She countered the flash of Thomas' shots with pinpoint lobs. Within 15 minutes of waking up, Harges had brought herself back to make the second set 5-5.
With the match slipping away, Thomas began shouting again, trying to right her game. But she double-faulted to fall behind, 6-5, and that fueled another set of shouts.
"I tried to get myself more motivated and intense," Thomas said. "I couldn't get it going. And I wasn't getting the snap on my serves like I usually do, either."
In the final game, after three long baseline rallies, Harges was one serve away from victory.
"I kept telling myself 'stay low, keep it deep' through the whole match," Harges said.
At match point, Harges served and, uncharacteristically, Thomas stayed back. The two rallied from baseline to baseline for more than a minute until Thomas couldn't wait any longer. She rushed in and tried to slam a lob, but whacked the ball, and her chances for winning, into the net.
"I learned a lot from this match," Thomas said. "I have to play my game. My coaches kept telling me different ways to play her. Like to keep working her forehand and to serve deeper. But I couldn't snap my serves anyway. And I wasn't hitting a heavy ball at all."
Said Harges: "Playing Jane was hard because I had to keep my intensity up for such long periods of time. But today I think I just kept the pressure on her long enough and tried to play out her hot and cold shots. Like I said, I'm not real flashy, I just try to keep it in play."