The University of Miami women’s tennis program is the only one in the nation that has advanced to the NCAA’s Elite Eight five consecutive years.
Making it six could be especially tough.
When the 12th-ranked Hurricanes (19-5) host the NCAA regionals at 2 p.m. Friday against Patriot League champion Boston University (14-6), they’ll be doing it without their No. 2 player.
Sophomore Kelsey Laurente (13-9) of Miramar, ranked 66th nationally, was suspended indefinitely last week “for disciplinary reasons,” said UM coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews, and has been scratched from the NCAA tournament.
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Being thrust into the spotlight because of Laurente’s absence: senior Brittany Dubins, 22, a Dr. Michael Krop High graduate from North Miami Beach and the 2010 Miami Herald Female Athlete of the Year for large schools.
“It’s unfortunate it happened this way,” Dubins said, “but I’m so happy Paige gave me a chance. I want to have fun out there. I’ve practiced hard all season to be ready if my time should come.”
If the Canes defeat the unranked Terriers, they would face on Saturday the winner of Friday’s 11 a.m. match between No. 18 Oklahoma (16-6) and No. 55 Wichita State (16-6) at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center on UM’s campus.
The last team standing this weekend advances to the NCAA national tournament May 15-20 in Athens, Ga.
Dubins was vital in UM’s postseason success the past three seasons, including a huge win at No. 6 singles to upset North Carolina two years ago in the Sweet Sixteens. But she played sparingly this season, posting a 7-3 record in doubles with UM’s top player Stephanie Wagner and a 2-5 singles record.
Laurente’s suspension means that only No. 1 Wagner (20-4), ranked 29th, will play at her usual spot in singles. But the others will all move up a spot. The top six players compete in singles, and Dubins was previously No. 7, with freshman walk-on Victoria Zukowski not expected to compete.
Dubins will now also play in doubles, potentially partnering with senior Melissa Bolivar (No. 4 singles) of Colombia to form UM’s No. 2 team. Brazilian Monique Albuquerque (No. 5 singles) is expected to team with Clementina Riobueno (No. 2 singles) of Venezuela to form the Canes’ top duo, while Wagner could team with Lina Lileikite (No. 3 singles) of Latvia at No. 3 doubles.
Riobueno and Albuquerque, 19-2 this season in doubles, are ranked eighth nationally.
In college tennis, the first team to four points wins the match. Each singles victory is worth one point, and the team that wins two out of three doubles matches also earns a point.
“If we’re able to get the doubles point and we only have to pull out three of six singles matches we’re pretty tough to beat,” said Yaroshuk-Tews, who would not elaborate on Laurente’s suspension. “You try to coach the kids throughout the year to be resilient, to learn to deal with adversity. Brittany is a pretty level-headed kid who brings a lot of experience.”
Assistant coach Laura Vallverdu, the 2009 NCAA singles finalist, said she has “no doubts’’ Dubins “will leave her heart out there. Winning or losing is part of the sport, but she will compete as hard as she can.”
Wagner, a powerful 5-11 German baseliner who is “relentless” and “mentally and physically does not take points off,” Yaroshuk-Tews said, believes the Hurricanes will compensate for the loss off Laurente.
“We’re all fighters, we all play with heart and we’re super close,” Wagner said. “That helps on and off the court. I’m not concerned about Brittany. She’s going to bring it this weekend and we’re going to do well.”
On Thursday, Albuquerque and Dubins will take part in UM’s graduate portion of commencement ceremonies so they can play Friday, when they normally would receive their degrees with their fellow undergraduates.
“I’ll have a lot of emotions going on,” Dubins said. “But I’m not worried. I think we’ll be just fine.”