Junior Nicole Gibbs captured the NCAA singles title over Nebraska’s Mary Weatherholt 6-2, 6-4 on Monday, successfully defending her title to become the first repeat NCAA singles champion since Stanford’s Amber Liu ’06 in 2004. After the match, Gibbs announced she would be foregoing her senior season to begin her professional career.
Gibbs, who led the Cardinal to a team NCAA title last week before cruising through the individual tournament without dropping a set this week, is the second Stanford player in history to boast an NCAA team, singles and doubles title.
Gibbs defeated former teammate Mallory Burdette ’13 in the finals last year to win her first individual title. But it wouldn’t be her last. The All-American won six straight matches to hold onto the crown.
“The biggest sensation I felt was relief and then happiness for everything I accomplished,” Gibbs said. “There was a lot of pressure late in the week with lots of interviews about repeating and of course my own expectations to defend the title. I played a really nervous match [against Weatherholt] and was pretty tight throughout.”
All the focus was on singles as both of Stanford’s doubles teams were eliminated in the first round. The duo of Gibbs and junior Kristie Ahn fell to Tulsa’s Isaura Enrique and Samantha Vickers 6-2, 6-4. Senior Stacey Tan and sophomore Ellen Tsay didn’t have much luck either, losing to Lauren Embree and Sofie Oyen of Florida 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.
In the first round of singles, No. 13 Gibbs defeated No. 47 Yang Pang of Arkansas 7-5, 6-4 in the tightest match of her run. Ahn, who clinched the team title for Stanford last week in a spectacular match, fell to Kansas State’s Petra Niedermayerova 6-2, 6-1. Freshman Krista Hardebeck won her first NCAA singles match over Pleun Burgmans of Auburn 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to move into the second round.
“I had a little bit of a let down after the team championship,” Gibbs said. “Getting through first round was really tough for me. My first round match was probably the toughest match I had all week. [Pang] came out to play and was pretty fearless.”
Stanford’s representatives had continued success in the second round as Gibbs breezed past Michigan’s Ronit Yurovsky 6-4, 6-4, and Hardebeck beat Virginia Commonwealth’s Cindy Chala 1-6, 7-5, 6-4. That was the third time in her last four matches where Hardebeck lost the first set only to win the match.
“Tennis is just a long sport,” Hardebeck said. “Your opponent has a long ways to go before she wins, so in most cases it gives you something to fight for and makes you jumpstart your game to play better.”
The Round of 16 marked the end for the freshman All-American. Hardebeck couldn’t get past No. 6 Laura Herring of Georgia, who won the match 6-0, 6-2.
“That was my seventh match of the week, and I’d been having two-hour plus matches every day,” Hardebeck said. “I was pretty physically fatigued, and [Herring] played very well and is a great player, so I had to be on the top of my game if I wanted to beat her and unfortunately I wasn’t able to be there.”
Gibbs really started to gain momentum in the Sweet Sixteen. In a repeat matchup from the team championship days before, she played Texas A&M’s Christina Sanchez-Quintanar. In their first meeting, Gibbs was shut out for the first time in her collegiate career in the first set but rallied back to win twelve straight games and take the match 0-6, 6-2, 6-0. This time around was easier for the NCAA champ, who beat Sanchez-Quintanar 6-4, 6-4.
Play seemed to get only easier for Gibbs, who defeated No. 16 Yana Koroleva of Clemson 6-1, 6-1 in the quarterfinal, No. 31 Breaunna Addison of Texas 6-1, 6-1 in the semifinal and Weatherholt in the final, losing only a combined 10 games over her final three matches.
“I picked up a lot of momentum throughout the tournament,” Gibbs said. “As I worked into the draw I started to feel my shots and my body was feeling great. The trainers were taking great care of me, but by the time I got to Sanchez I was a little nervous because of our match in the team tournament. From that point on though, I played really well and was able to take it to a new level.”
Gibbs’ victory in Monday’s final marked her last match as a Stanford student-athlete. Gibbs will skip here senior season on the Farm to enter the pro circuit, just as her teammate Burdette did last year.
“It’s been a really scary decision for me,” Gibbs said. “I love Stanford and I’ve had such a great time through my three years here. I’ve had great experiences with the team, my coaches, and the overall Stanford college experience. It’s a decision I’ve had in the back of my mind since winning last year, but I wanted to develop my skills and try for a team title. I’m very sad to forgo my senior year but I’m excited to play professionally.”
Gibbs will leave Stanford as a two-time NCAA singles champion, a Pac-12 champion and holder of a 111-15 overall record in match play.
“[Gibbs] showed not just me but a whole bunch of people that you can get way better in college,” Hardebeck said. “It doesn’t always seem possible, but she’s done a great job of balancing school and tennis, and that is sometimes really difficult.”
Like Gibbs, Hardebeck entered Stanford as a No. 1 recruit and considered turning straight to the pro circuit after high school. Hardebeck will return for the Cardinal next year.
Gibbs’ victory marked the official end of Stanford’s season, but the Cardinal will be back without Gibbs, Tan and senior Natalie Dillon next year as it tries to repeat the success of its championship season.
Contact Chrissy Jones at chrissyj ‘at’ stanford.edu.