The latest rendition of the “Comeback Pack” came courtesy of No. 4 NC State women’s tennis, who pulled off a thrilling come from behind victory against No. 12 Iowa State in the quarterfinal round of the 2023 NCAA Championships in Orlando, Florida.
NC State’s (27-4) ticket to the semifinal round was punched after an excruciating 4-3 win over the Cyclones (21-6) who won three straight singles matches in a row that put the Pack’s championship run in dire straits. The red-and-white faced a 3-2 deficit, and needed to pull out wins in both three-setters on courts three and six.
However, it was then that NC State turned the tide — juniors Gina Dittmann and Amelia Rajecki gutted out wins on their respective courts as the Wolfpack chased the Cyclones off the courts in Orlando.
Dittmann pulled off a clutch three-set, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 victory on court six to put the score at 3-3 in the waning moments of the match. Her key win on court six set up Rajecki to send the Pack to its second final four in school history, and the junior didn’t disappoint.
No. 26 Rajecki won in a thriller, beating her Iowa State opponent 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-3 in the deciding match that prompted her teammates to rush court three as they finished their comeback.
“I think it's the highlight of my college career so far,” Rajecki said. “We have had some tough 4-3 matches this year, especially last year as well, and been on the flip side. I know how hard it is and I'm just so thankful that we got through this.”
NC State defeats Iowa State, 4-3, in a thrilling evening of tennis to advance to the National Semifinals in Orlando, Florida. Amelia Rajecki rallied from an 0-2 deficit in the final set to help send the Wolfpack to the next round.NEXT: NC State vs. Stanford on 5/19/23 pic.twitter.com/ebmJ9rT6IO— Rob McLamb (@RobMcLamb) May 18, 2023
NC State makes doubles look easy, and they didn’t make an exception in their ruthlessness against the Cyclones. Juniors Sophie Abrams and Abigail Rencheli secured the first win — a 6-2 victory on court two – before No. 4 freshman Diana Shnaider and graduate student Alana Smith secured a 6-3 win on court one.
Even singles started off in favor of the Wolfpack. No. 7 Shnaider perfected her ranked opponent 6-0, 6-0 on court one, quickly putting NC State on top 2-0.
Between Shnaider’s win and Dittmann and Rajecki third set surges that came hours later, it was all Iowa State. The Cyclones took three straight singles courts, emptying their tank against an NC State team that had been a perfect 12-0 in terms of match score so far in the NCAA Championships.
“Our doubles point kind of went according to plan,” said head coach Simon Earnshaw. “I felt like we kind of started slow on a couple of [singles] courts and kind of built from there. We got ourselves in some holes, outside of No. 1 singles, obviously. But Iowa State is tough and I think they took it to us pretty good there. We got some leads in second sets that we didn't really convert on and it can start to get complicated.”
Iowa State downed Rencheli and Abrams in straight sets on courts four and five, respectively, evening the score at 2-2, but the Cyclones didn’t stop there. Iowa State’s No. 66 Ange Oby Kajuru downed No. 13 Smith in two close sets on court two that moved the score 3-2.
Dittmann and Rajecki swung the momentum right back in the Pack’s direction with their gutsy third set performances on courts six and three. Together, they helped secure NC State’s special 4-3 win and a subsequent battle with Stanford in the semifinal round.
“I think it shows how far our team has come, especially from the start [of the season] when we lost to Vanderbilt 4-3 in the kickoff to now,” Rajecki said. “I think how much we've grown and just how much everyone's learned—I'm really proud of everyone. It was great.”
NC State is now just one match away from competing for its first team National Championship in program history. After years of repeated appearances in the quarterfinal and even semifinal rounds, the Pack’s goal has never been closer. However, it’ll have to topple the No. 6 Cardinals who simultaneously upset No. 2 Texas A&M in their quarterfinal match.
“Part of [that match] is history. NC State until recently has not had much history and [Stanford] has not been in this space in the tournament the last, probably four years, so this team we've not played. I think if I could choose a team for us to play, that's the match we want. We want to measure ourselves against history because there's no other way that we can create history.”
With Stanford’s extensive record of NCAA Championship success under its belt, Stanford will certainly pose a challenge for the red-and-white. However, the Pack has defeated its fair share of top-ranked opponents so far this season, making for the cross-country clash in Orlando with a finals berth on the line all the more exciting.
NC State will play Stanford on Friday, May 19 at 5 p.m. with a chance to appear in its first NCAA Championship match in program history on the line.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.