Athens, Ga. - Making history Wednesday by playing in Santa Clara's first-ever NCAA Women's Singles Championship match, Bronco sophomore Katie Le pushed it to a third set in singles with a thrilling second-set victory, but couldn't hold on and lost 6-7(4), 7-5 and 0-6 to No. 37 Abigail Tere-Apisah of Georgia State.
The 2012 West Coast Conference Player of the Year, Le battled tough for almost three hours in bright sun and 80-degree weather with 60 percent humidity. "Katie handled the conditions as well as possible. If your body isn't use to the weather and the conditions (high heat and humidity), you don't adapt in just a day. It's tough, but she did a great job with it. Katie played really well," said Bronco head coach Ben Cabell.
"I told myself before I played this morning I would have to find a balance between blessed to be here and also the results," said Le. "Obviously a couple hours later I am still a little disappointed because I could have won the match. She was very good, but there were a lot of opportunities to win and I am upset about it. I let a lot of winners go. I have been screaming in my head over it."
"But regardless of my disappointment, I want to thank my coaches for all their help. They were great and so were my teammates," added Le. "I got a lot of Facebook messages and Tweets. It's great to see all the support from my teammates, friends and family. It's such a special feeling to know everyone has my back and that were so many people watching. It made me feel really good."
Le went up 3-1 in the first set when she broke Tere-Apisah's serve. Tere-Apisah won her serve and then Le won her serve again to take a 4-2 lead. Tere-Apisah won her serve and broke Le again to tie it up 4-4. Le won her serve again to take a 5-4 lead and then Tere-Apisah won her serve to tie it up again at 5-5. The two won their serves again to tie it up 6-6. Tere-Apisah went up 5-3 in the tiebreaker before Le won a point, but Tere-Apisah won the set 7-4 by winning the last two points.
"There were obviously so many close points in the first set," said Cabell. "The first set was Katie's opportunity to get control and maybe in hindsight she needed to. Every big point that Katie had a chance to put away in the first set, Abigail came up big. Abigail had a knack for making big shots when the point really counted. Abigail played really well on those important points."
In the second set the two battled again neck-in-neck with Le taking a 5-4 lead serving. She served set point three times before Tere-Apisah won to tie it up 5-5. Le broke Tere-Apisah's serve and then won her own again to win the second set 7-5.
"After Katie lost the first set in the tiebreaker, we made a couple little adjustments," said Cabell. "We talked about being a little more aggressive and trying to control more points, rather than playing defense. She did that well in the second set. We also talked about her getting off well in the second set and she did that as well. I was really proud of how she worked hard in every point."
"In the second set I was being more aggressive. In the first set I was waiting for her to make mistakes. In the second set I wanted to be more aggressive and hit more winners and not make a lot of mistakes," said Le. "Today it was key that I didn't get frustrated because there were so many opportunities for me to close out the first set, but the points didn't go my way. Mainly I had to focus on each point and not worry about not being able to close it out in the last few games of the first set."
Tere-Apisah came out on fire in the third set and won 6-0.
"I don't think Katie ran out of gas in the third set, Abigail just played better," said Cabell.
"The conditions caused Katie to lose maybe a half step in the third set. That is huge in a match like this and it favored Abigail. They both played so well in all three sets."
Le, ranked No. 60, finishes the year at 18-6. In just her second season as a Bronco, Le continued to raise the bar by collecting the WCC Player of the Year and All-WCC First Team honors for both her singles and doubles play. It's the first time in school history a player has been named the WCC Player of the Year and received First Team Honors in both singles and doubles.
Le ended the 2012 regular season with an 18-5 record, playing every match at the No. 1 singles spot for the Broncos. Le was also named WCC Player of the Month in March after stringing together a 10-match winning streak. Le has been nationally ranked by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association throughout the 2011-12 season and currently stands as the No. 60 singles player in the country, as of April 24. In her highest ranking this season, she reached the No. 38 singles spot. Le was the 2011 WCC Freshman of the Year.
"Overall, I am just so proud of Katie," said Cabell. "She has done so well for herself and the program. In the big picture, we couldn't be more proud of what she has been able to accomplish in her first two years at Santa Clara. She does it all with an extremely high GPA in an incredibly tough major, Computer Engineering. She has two more years to get even better. I expect she will be back at the NCAA tournament again. She has the game, the motivation and she knows how to do it now. Of course some of it is luck. People you beat during the year have to do well, so that's luck. But the best players in the country are here and she has beaten some of them. Playing here today will make her want to come back next year and do even better."
"This season, making the NCAAs was my goal," said Le. "Once I made it and played, I want more, but i am glad to be here. This gives me a lot of motivation for next season. After playing all these really good players it shows me what to work on. I will use the sumer to brush up on those areas. I will also prepare for All-Americans in the fall. Playing well at All-Americans will help me raise my ranking and play a bunch of really good players as well."