Cierra Gaytan-Leach

Resiliency has been the motto for the Longhorns all year. The motto for the Big 12 Championship will be no different.

The team has won the Big 12 tournament title seven times, with its most recent victory coming in 2005. Coming off a loss in its final regular season matchup, the fourth seeded Longhorns will earn a first round bye before looking for redemption against the fifth seeded Oklahoma State Cowboys, who handed them that loss.

After a year filled with many ups and a few downs, the Longhorns finished with a 14-7 record, including a 7-2 conference mark to earn them the No. 13 ranking in the country. This year’s team is filled with talent from freshmen to veterans.

Junior All-American Aeriel Ellis came into the season as the cornerstone of the Longhorn’s lineup and for the most part she did not disappoint, finishing as the No. 38 ranked player in the nation.

Senior Krista Damico emerged as a leader for the team after racking up an incredible 12 straight victories at one point this year. She finished the season No. 67 in the country, winning 14 of her matches of the year and buoying the women to an impressive record.

Sophomores Cierra Gaytan-Leach and Elizabeth Begley came out of nowhere to entrench themselves as the backbones of this lineup. Playing out of the four and six spots in the lineup for most of the year, they provided key points almost every match.

Gaytan-Leach earned recognition for her gritty play towards the end of the year, capping close wins against Baylor and Texas Tech. Begley finished the year with 15 wins to her singles record, including a perfect 9-0 record in conference play.

The two sophomores weren’t the only players making noise for the bottom of the team’s lineup, as freshmen Noel Scott and Lina Padegimaite finished their first-year campaigns with a lot to boast about.

As a duo Scott and Padegimaite finished as the No. 55 doubles pair in the country. Scott finished the season with many important victories for the Longhorns, as she was ranked in the top 100 players for the majority of the season.

Padegimaite finished the season very strong emerging as a big winner, notching 15 singles wins including a perfect Big 12 record.

Success has followed the Longhorns all year, with their trademark resiliency leading the way. This weekend will put both their accolades and will to the final test.

After three matches of rough weather and rough competition, the Longhorns must endure two more storms in conference play.

Heading into this weekend’s matches with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the women sit at the top of the Big 12 with a 6-1 record. Coming off a close loss to A&M, the team is in perfect position to flash its trademark resiliency.

“We’ll figure it out by the time we hit the [Big 12] tournament,” said head coach Patty Fendick-McCain “We’ve got a lot more tennis to play. We’ve got two more matches coming up, and that’s going to determine the conference champion. We’ll be ready to go.”

Sophomore Elizabeth Begley has been called the backbone of this year’s team by coaches and teammates alike. Her 29-7 overall record, including a perfect 7-0 record in Big 12 play has garnered her much deserved attention, as she’s given this team all the lift they need to stay near the top.

Gritty play has characterized the team all year long, and as of late, the same can be said of Cierra Gaytan-Leach, who was recently named Big 12 player of the week. In her last three matches, Gaytan-Leach has fought back from deficits to eke out much needed wins and points for the team.

“She’s feeling very confident now, and she’s got a good sense of herself,” Fendick-McCain said. “You can’t say enough about it.”

It’s no secret that newcomers have stepped up all year long to aid a stellar veteran lineup. Freshman Lina Padegimaite has probably been the most impressive in her first season, notching many key doubles wins with fellow freshman Noel Scott, as well as notching an impressive 16 singles wins to this point.

“She’s hitting her stride now, and that’s what we want to see,” Fendick-McCain said. “She’s getting comfortable playing on a hard court. It’s a completely different style of play, a more aggressive style. She’s had to adapt and has done a really good job.”

The three players mentioned above are currently playing the best tennis for the Longhorns. Entering the last stretch of matches before the Big 12 tournament, this key play isn’t coming from the top of the women’s lineup, but rather from the bottom.

“At four, five and six, those girls are playing so well, and they really feel good about their games,” Fendick-McCain said. “We have to get back on form at the top three spots, but four, five and six have been working hard, and they’re feeling it right now.”

With motivation and redemption on the minds of the Longhorns, the Sooners and Cowboys could be in for a disappointing end to conference play this weekend.

Senior Krista Damico helped Texas get past Texas Tech by winning her singles match in straight sets. The Longhorns are 6-0 against Big 12 foes and will try to improve to 7-0 when they face Texas A&M Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Lingnan Chen | Daily Texan Staff

Following a pair of impressive conference wins, the Longhorns are ready to face off with an old rival.

The team is 6-0 in Big 12 play and ranked No. 13 in the country. Victories over the likes of top 25 teams such as Baylor and Texas Tech proved that these accolades are no fluke.

“Texas Tech came in undefeated in conference play this year and has been playing some great tennis with some very scrappy players,” said head coach Patty Fendick-McCain. “It is just a really good win to get at home.”

Sophomore Elizabeth Begley has emerged as of late, becoming a kind of backbone for the women. She currently holds an undefeated conference record and a 12-1 record overall after two wins last weekend.

“Elizabeth Begley was terrific out there [against Tech],” Fendick-McCain said.

Cierra Gaytan-Leach has earned numerous victories in doubles play this year, but her nail-biting victories in the last few matches have earned her attention for her singles play as well. She fought back from a third set deficit to clinch the match point for the team against Baylor and proceeded to do the same against Texas Tech the next day.

“I went down 3-0 and was kind of moping around a little bit and trying to keep my head up, but I told myself, ‘Okay, I know it is coming down to me and I have to do it for Texas,’” Gaytan-Leach said. “I stepped it up and everything went my way.”

Gaytan-Leach’s resolve did not go unnoticed.

“You could see the determination in her eyes when she came back out for the third set,” Fendick-McCain said. “I felt good about it. I just kind of sat back and enjoyed the third set because I felt really good about it.”

Veterans Krista Damico and Aeriel Ellis have buoyed the team’s charge all season long and not much more can be said about their impact. However, the bottom of the Longhorn’s lineup is filled with newcomers who are performing at a level impossible to miss.

“Lina [Padegimaite], Elizabeth [Begley] and Cierra [Gaytan-Leach] have been playing so great at four, five and six [singles],” Fendick-McCain said. “I thought those three matches were going to be over with pretty quickly today [against Baylor] because they’ve all been playing well.”

Padegimaite, a freshman for the Longhorns, currently holds 12 singles wins this year, putting her near the top on this solid team. But her doubles play may be the most impressive feat of her first season, as she and fellow freshman Noel Scott are ranked No. 42 in the country as a duo.

“They’ve worked so hard in the last couple of weeks to really get back on form, because they’ve struggled, but I thought it was great to see them clinch the point [against Baylor],” Fendick-McCain said. “That couldn’t have been better. It was awesome.”

With all of this momentum, the women will head to College Station for a battle with the Aggies.

Printed on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 as: Longhorns look to stay perfect against conference competition

Women's Tennis Review

After a dark and windy weekend, the Longhorns escaped more than just bad weather.

The No. 13 ranked Longhorns emerged from this weekend’s Big 12 matches with two close victories. The team edged out a 4-3 win against No. 12 Baylor, and secured a solid 4-2 victory over No. 22 Texas Tech.

Saturday’s rough winds did nothing to derail the team from capturing the always crucial doubles point. The duos of Noel Scott and Lina Padegimaite, and Aeriel Ellis and Elizabeth Begley took their doubles matches by scores of 9-8 and 8-4 respectively.

“You always want to have faith and believe they can get over the top,” head coach Patty Fendick-McCain said. “And to see the freshmen [Padegimaite and Scott] come back after two match points down and win — it was so good.”

In singles competition, Begley led the way by winning her match in two flawless sets. Padegimaite also won her match in straight sets, but it was Cierra Gaytan-Leach who gave the women the deciding point of the match by winning a tough three set battle.

“After the second set, I went into the locker room and thought about how I had won my first set — by staying aggressive,” Gaytan-Leach said. “I stepped out there and I had my game on. I ripped my shots and they went in, so I just kept doing it.”

Sunday saw more cloudy skies, but the Longhorns beat the storm and the Red Raiders in convincing fashion. Both teams decided to forgo doubles matches due to weather, but that extra point wasn’t needed.

Senior Krista Damico got back into the win column with a victory in straight sets.

Begley and Padegimaite won in singles. Gaytan-Leach provided the fourth win for the women, winning another three-set battle.

Women's Tennis

Spring break saw a bittersweet symphony play an impressive but tough tune for the Longhorns.

Despite a close loss to No. 4 ranked USC, the team claimed victories over No. 16 Michigan, and conference foes Iowa State and Missouri.

Against Michigan, All-American Aeriel Ellis played a hard-fought match with the No. 10 ranked player in the nation, but eventually came away with the win after dropping the first set. Great performances by Cierra Gaytan-Leach, Krista Damico and Elizabeth Begley produced three more points for the Longhorns.

In their next match, USC proved to be too much as the Longhorns fell in all three doubles matches to give the Trojans the deciding match point. The women split the singles matches as Gaytan-Leach, Lina Padegimaite and Damico all emerged victorious in three sets, respectively.

“USC is a very tough team with a lot of good players, but for the girls who were on the court to get those wins was great,” head coach Patty Fendick-McCain said. “We get on a plane tomorrow and go to Iowa State and Missouri, and we are looking forward to getting out there and starting conference play.”

In their first Big 12 match of the season, the duo of Padegimaite and Noel Scott won their doubles match in straight sets against Iowa State. In singles competition, Scott, Padegimaite and Damico each claimed victory as the women took five out of six from the Cyclones.

To close out the break the Longhorns topped Missouri by sweeping all three doubles matches on their way to a decisive 5-2 win. In singles play Damico, Padegimaite, Gaytan-Leach and Begley all won their matches.

With two notable victories to begin Big 12 play, the Longhorns look to be a tough opponent for any conference foe.

Women's Tennis Recap

The performance of the Longhorns mirrored Friday evening’s weather: clear and cool.

In their first match as an ITA top 10 team, the ladies dominated Northwestern, winning 6-1. Of the nine matches of the night, the Longhorns emerged victorious in all but two.

“I think it’s really just a number at this point in the season, but it’s nice to see that we’re playing some top-notch tennis,” head coach Patty Fendick-McCain said.

“We’re having a lot of fun doing it.”

Starting off strong in doubles play, the duos of Noel Scott and Lina Padegimaite, and Aeriel Ellis and Cierra Gaytan-Leach easily came out on top, winning 8-6 and 8-4 respectively.

“I was really proud of the girls, especially with the way we started in the doubles matches,” Fendick-McCain said. “We came out strong, got the doubles point, picked up two really big wins at one and two [doubles].”

On the singles side of things, All-American Ellis topped the No. 20 player in the country to set the tone. Other individual winners on the evening included Krista Damico, Elizabeth Begley, Padegimaite and Gaytan-Leach.

“We had some great performances throughout the entire singles matches,” Fendick-McCain said. “I’m super proud of them.”

Top competition breeds top performance, and the Longhorns will most likely continue this dominance as competition heats up the rest of the season.

“We’ve got to take it day-by-day,” Fendick-McCain said. “We’ve got some things we need to work out in practice to get ready for the next one.”

Despite playing well in doubles, the No. 21 Texas women’s tennis squad dropped this weekend’s matchup against No. 9 Virginia at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.

The Longhorns opened the day with an impressive 2-3 double victory over familiar opponents. Freshmen Lina Padegimaite and Noel Scott posted an 8-6 win over the Cavaliers’ Emily Fraser and Li Xi at first doubles, opponents the pair lost to last week. Second doubles was won in tiebreaker, as junior Aeriel Ellis and sophomore Cierra Gaytan-Leach narrowly beat Virginia’s Erin Vierra and Hana Tomljanovic, 9-8.

“We had great performances in doubles from our freshmen at No. 1 doubles,” said UT head coach Patty Fendick-McCain. “They came from way back to win the match. We lost to that doubles team [UVA’s Fraser and Xi] in the finals last week [at the National Collegiate Tennis Classic]. At No. 2, we were able to save a few match points to get that doubles point.”

Senior Krista Damico and sophomore Elizabeth Begley posted singles victories from the third and sixth spots respectively in two sets, but the Cavaliers rattled off four victories on the remaining courts to seal the deal.

“We had our opportunities in singles,” Fendick-McCain said. “Cierra [Gaytan-Leach] and Noel [Scott] had chances to get into third sets. Krista [Damico] competed well and played smart tennis. Aeriel [Ellis] had her chances in the first set. Elizabeth Begley was like a freight train out there. The match came down to Lina [Padegimaite]. She fought her heart out, but her opponent had a little more in the tank today. We prepared well and did everything we could to give ourselves an opportunity to win. We fell short, but we fought hard.”

Padegimaite, competing in the fifth spot, was out muscled in her sets 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 by Virginia’s Vierra.

Texas takes to the road again next weekend when it heads to Nashville, Tenn., for the ITA Kick-Off Weekend.

Junior Aeriel Ellis and the rest of the No. 21 Longhorns opened their season with a strong showing in Califorina.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

The No. 21 ranked Longhorns started their season with some impressive showings at the National Collegiate Tennis Classic in California this past weekend.

The doubles tandem of freshmen Noel Scott and Lina Padegimaite battled their way through the doubles draw of the tournament, posting three straight wins before falling in the finals to Virginia’s Emily Fraser and Li Xi, 5-8.

Players posting wins the round of 32 in the singles draw included freshman Alex Martin, sophomores Juliana Gajic and Elizabeth Begley, as well as Scott and Padegimaite. Scott and Martin went on to post victories in the round of 16.
Other Longhorns that saw singles action on the first day included senior Carlene Leyden, sophomore Cierra Gaytan-Leach and freshman Annat Rabinovich.

In the singles quarterfinals junior Aeriel Ellis defeated teammate Martin, while Scott was defeated in her match. Ellis went on to lose in the semifinals, 4-6,2-6, to Fraser of Virginia.

In the singles consolation draw, Rabinovich posted a victory before being defeated by a player from USC, while Gaytan-Leach was defeated by a player from Virginia.

Texas ended the tournament on a high-note by posting four more singles victories from Gaytan-Leach, Begley, Gajic and senior Krista Damico.

Next up for the Longhorns is a tough stretch of matches with No. 9 Virginia due up this Saturday followed by No. 4 North Carolina on Sunday in New York.

Conference competition won’t be much easier, as Texas will face No. 6 ranked Baylor in Austin, while traveling to No. 25 Oklahoma and No. 29 Texas A&M. Last year the Longhorns beat Kansas State and Oklahoma before falling to the Texas A&M in the conference tournament, then went on to lose to No. 7 Miami in the second round of the NCAA Championships. The Longhorns finished the season ranked No. 23.

Printed on Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 as: After strong start, doubles team Scott and Padegimaite fall in final

Women's Tennis

Following this weekend’s ITA Texas Regional Championship, junior Aeriel Ellis survived as the only Longhorn to reach the semifinals. Ellis, along with senior Krista Damico, built on her previous doubles success during the tournament but eventually met defeat in the doubles quarterfinal. Meanwhile, the Texas doubles duo sophomore Cierra Gaytan-Leach and freshman Noel Scott also fell in the quarterfinals.

The weekend proved overall a success for Texas, as six players moved into the singles round of 32. The Longhorns have proved to be a formidable doubles force so far this season, but this tournament displayed the depth of their singles lineup.

The ITA Texas Regional Championship is one Ellis presumably enjoys after wining the title her freshman year. Ellis moved through the tournament with considerable ease, especially in her quarterfinal match where she only needed to post one game before her opponent retired. Head coach Patty Fendick-McCain had hoped Texas would win this tournament but Ellis retired in her semifinal match against Texas A&M’s Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar. Ellis, however, did qualify for the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships next week in New York City.

Printed on Tuesday, October 25, 2011, as: Ellis falls in ITA Texas Regional semis, qualifies for national championships

Women's Tennis Weekend Recap

After the third day of the ITA Texas Regional Championship, junior Aeriel Ellis survives as the only Longhorn to reach the semifinals. Ellis, along with senior Krista Damico, did meet defeat in the doubles quarterfinal and the other Texas doubles duo sophomore Cierra Gaytan-Leach and freshman Noel Scott also fell in the quarterfinals.

The weekend proved overall a success for Texas, as six players moved into the singles round of 32. The Longhorns have proved a consistent doubles effort so far this season, but this tournament displayed the depth of their singles lineup.

The tournament is now Ellis’ for the taking as she seeks to reclaim the title she won as a freshman. In her quarterfinal match, Ellis only needed to post one game before her opponent retired, allowing Ellis to remain fresh for her upcoming semifinals. Head coach Patty Fendick-McCain had hoped this tournament would be one that Texas would win, which is still up for grabs if Ellis can get past Texas A&M’s Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar in her semifinal match today.