Dramatic rally sends McCulloughs to ITA Division II doubles final

Caitlin (left) and Annie McCullough flank head coach Adam Jackson following Friday's semifinal win
Caitlin (left) and Annie McCullough flank head coach Adam Jackson following Friday's semifinal win

ROME, Ga. --- Tusculum University's Annie McCullough and Caitlin McCullough advanced to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division II national championship in dramatic fashion, beating fourth-seeded Nikol Alekseeva and Anna Novikova of Indianapolis in the semifinals on Friday at the Rome Tennis Center.

The McCulloughs beat Alekseeva and Novikova 4-6, 7-6 (11-9), (11-9) to move into Saturday's Division II championship against Natalie Espinal and Sarah Wardenburg of Nova Southeastern, who beat Valentina Gonzalez and Eva Ovcina of Angelo State 6-4, 6-1 in the other semifinal.

The Division II champion will then play off with the Division III, NAIA and JUCO doubles champions for the ITA Cup and a berth in the ITA National Fall Championships in Newport Beach, California.

After dropping the first set, the McCulloughs went up 5-3 in the second set and had three set points at 5-4 but were unable to put away Alekseeva and Novikova. The McCulloughs went back up 6-5, but dropped the final game to send the set into a tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker, the Pioneer duo faced match point at 6-7 and again at 8-9, but were able to rally to force a 10-point match tiebreak.

The McCulloughs came back from 1-3 to go ahead 8-4 in the match tiebreak, but Alekseeva and Novikova rattled off five straight points to go ahead 9-8. Facing a third match point, the McCulloughs came back to 9-9 and then won the last two points to advance to Saturday's Division II championship.

Annie McCullough also competed in singles during Friday's action, dropping a 6-2, 6-2 decision to defending ITA Cup champion Berta Bonardi of West Florida. Annie McCullough will play a consolation match against Anna Savchenko of Azusa Pacific on Saturday.