Vanderbilt women's tennis brought home a national title thanks to a marathon effort from a woman called "Roo."
The Commodores topped UCLA to clinch their first-ever NCAA Championship 4-2 on Tuesday night. The hero was Astra Sharma - a redshirt freshman from Australia with a marsupial nickname and a penchant for coming up big in the NCAA Tournament. Sharma defeated UCLA's Channelle Van Nguyen in singles play, launching a major comeback after losing the first set of her match. Sharma put the icing on the cake when she broke her All-American opponent in the final game of the tournament to seal up the Vanderbilt victory.
Vanderbilt took an early lead when they took the doubles point by beating the Bruins 2-1. That gave them a 1-0 advantage with six singles matches to play. They extended that lead to 2-0 when senior Ashleigh Antal took down Kaitlin Ray in the first result of the second session. UCLA struck back quickly to earn a point on court one when Sydney Campbell lost in straight sets.
Courtney Colton put the 'Dores on the precipice of victory when she won her singles matchup minutes later. That put the pressure on senior Marie Casares, who had to hold serve at the end of her second set to clinch the national title. Despite an early 30-15 advantage, the Ecuadorian lost the final set and the ensuing tiebreaker to keep the lights at the national championship.
UCLA cut that lead to 3-2 when Frances Altick dropped a second set tiebreaker to Jennifer Brady. Altick had battled back from a early deficit to push Brady to her limit, but ultimately fell when the game's umpire overruled her protests over a Brady shot that appeared to fall just wide of the white line. That decision handed the Bruins the match and pushed them one step closer to an unlikely comeback.
That put the pressure on Casares and Sharma to close out tense third-set battles with a national championship on the line. Sharma had dropped her first set to All-American Van Nguyen but rallied back in the second to keep the Commodores alive as the sun set on the Baylor courts. The Australian transplant held serve late to build up to a 5-4 advantage, but Sharma and Van Nguyen played to a virtual deadlock in the 10th game with a national title on the line.
Van Nguyen cued up four game points, but Sharma held steady to return to deuce each time. Van Nguyen did the same on Sharma's first two attempts at championship point, but that wouldn't be enough. The exhausted freshman dug deep to earn the NCAA title on a third-game break. Casares, who had battled to a 3-3 deadlock three courts over, did not have to finish her match. Instead, she and her teammates swarmed their victorious teammate as they celebrated their first-ever NCAA crown.
The national title is Vanderbilt's third in any sport in school history. The Commodores won the women's bowling crown in 2007 and won the College World Series in 2014.