As the South Carolina women’s tennis team piled on top of one another in celebration in College Station, Texas, Katarina Jokic slumped by the net in defeat.
Jokic, the nation’s top-ranked player, had just lost her third set to Ingrid Martins. The win clinched the SEC tournament championship for the Gamecocks on April 21 and gave the Bulldogs their first defeat.
“That was probably the toughest loss I’ve experienced in college,” Jokic said. “Not just because they clinched when I lost but because the team was doing really well.”
The loss ended a program record 23-match winning streak for Georgia. The team had just broken the previous record of 22 consecutive wins, set by the 2002 squad.
Although losing the chance at an undefeated season stung, Jokic said the loss in the conference tournament could help the team.
“This was maybe the good time that [a loss] happened,” Jokic said. “We now know what we have to work on, so we are more hungry than ever. You can only learn from it.”
The Bulldogs led the conference with all six of their featured players earning All-SEC honors this season. Jokic, Marta Gonzalez and Vivian Wolff earned first-team honors while Lourdes Carle and Elena Christofi were on the second team.
Meg Kowalski, a freshman from Chicago, was named SEC Freshman of the Year. This is the third consecutive year the Bulldogs have had a player earn the award, following Christofi in 2017 and Jokic last season.
Kowalski suffered the first individual loss of her collegiate career in the final against South Carolina. She said that losing, especially to a conference rival, shocked the team but that the Bulldogs are using it as motivation moving forward.
“After [the match] we had a big meeting with the coaches and we had to decide that we never want to have that feeling again,” Kowalski said. “As hard as it was, we are so hungry after that.”
Depth has been a major key for the success of the team this season. The Bulldogs are a combined 21-1 on courts four, five and six over their last 10 matches as Christofi, Kowalski and Wolff have helped carry the team.
The Bulldogs will have their chance for redemption soon enough. On April 29, the team was announced as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, meaning the Bulldogs will host the first and second round matchups from May 4-5 as well as super regionals if they advance.
Head coach Jeff Wallace said despite the loss, he was confident in his team going forward and losing might actually give the team a positive edge heading into the national tournament.
“They’re ready to rebound and regroup and get out there and get focused,” Wallace said. “I think that our program if you look through the years, it takes a lot of pride in bouncing back and bouncing back strong. That’s what dogs do and that’s what we plan on doing.”