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Gold Nuggets fall in national semifinals

Gold Nuggets fall in national semifinals

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by Federico Coppini

MOBILE, Ala. — Xavier University of Louisiana lost 5-3 Saturday to defending champion Georgia Gwinnett in the semifinals of the NAIA Women's Tennis National Championship.
The Gold Nuggets (17-10) were eliminated in the national semifinals for the third consecutive year.

Women's tennis is the only XU sport to advance this far at nationals.

The dual match ended approximately 25 hours after its 1 p.m. Friday start. Play was suspended in the third hour because of a rainstorm and did not resume until 11 a.m.

Saturday. There was a second rain delay Saturday of approximately two hours.

Xavier began Saturday with a 2-1 lead after doubles but never overcame the Grizzlies' lead in five singles matches. Georgia Gwinnett won four times in singles and clinched when Valeria Podda defeated Nour Abbes 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (8-6) at the top flight.

"The girls left everything out on the court today," 12th-year XU coach Alan Green said.

"They had another good year where we learned so many things together. We know we are one of the elite teams in the NAIA, and today we lost to the best team and the best coach. We're hurting right now, but underneath we know we have a lot to be proud of and thankful for."

The Gold Nuggets' lone singles victory was Caroline Vernet's 6-0, 6-3 decision against Laura Wehner at No.

2. It was Vernet's second consecutive singles victory at the tournament against a ranked opponent, and it gave Xavier a 3-2 lead in the dual.

On Friday, Abbes and Carmen Nelson defeated Luma Schwab and Victoria Svensson 9-7 at No.

2 doubles, and Brion Flowers and Brandi Nelson beat Chiara Di Salvo and Helga Pinones-Haltenhoff 8-4 at No. 3.

Ewell, Flowers and Brandi Nelson lost in straight sets in singles. Still on the court when the Grizzlies clinched was Carmen Nelson, who trailed Judith van Fraaijenhoven 6-4, 6-6 and was tied at 3 in a second-set tiebreaker.

Di Salvo's 6-2, 7-6 (7-2) victory against Flowers tied the dual at 3.

Abbes vs.

Podda was a matchup of the NAIA's No. 1 and 3 singles players. Podda, a straight-sets loser to Abbes in September in the final of the USTA / ITA NAIA South Regional Championships, beat top-ranked Abbes for the first time in three collegiate meetings.

In the third set, Abbes led 4-3 in games after a service break -- she had trailed 40-love -- and led 5-3 in the tiebreaker.

But Podda rallied to give Abbes her fourth loss of the season in 33 decisions and her first in two appearances (six rounds) at nationals.

Georgia Gwinnett is 9-0 this season against NAIA opponents and has not lost to an NAIA team since Xavier's 5-3 victory in the championship of the 2014 NAIA Unaffiliated Group 2 Tournament.

This was the closest of the Nuggets' three national semifinal duals.

They lost 5-0 to William Carey in 2013 and 5-2 to Embry-Riddle (Fla.) In 2014. Both times a top-seeded Xavier team lost to a No. 5 seed.

Georgia Gwinnett will play second-seeded Auburn Montgomery, a 5-2 winner against third-seeded Lindsey Wilson, for the championship Sunday.

More rain fell about 10 minutes after Xavier was eliminated and pushed back the men's and women's championship duals a day. Defending champion Georgia Gwinnett will play Embry-Riddle in a rematch of the 2014 men's final.

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