To put their season in tennis language, the Tennessee women's team keeps getting served adversity, but they keep returning inspiration.
Such was the case against Auburn early Friday evening, when No. 19 Tennessee (13-9, 4-5 SEC) managed to overcome another injury to eke out a 4-3 victory at Barksdale Tennis Stadium.
"I'm real proud of the girls," said a relieved co-head coach Mike Patrick, whose team enjoyed its second win in a row. "We've faced a lot of adversity in the last few weeks and to play a conference match already giving away a point is really tough to do."
Patrick is probably starting to become as familiar with a hospital waiting room as his team's weight room, as he spent part of his day attending freshman Sarah Toti's successful surgery to repair a torn ACL in her knee.
He also learned freshman Caitlyn Williams' shoulder was still nagging her and she could not play, forcing Tennessee to have to forfeit a singles point and one of the doubles matches.
And then during the singles, Joanna Henderson turned her ankle while trailing 5-0 in the first set to Jackie Kasler, causing the Lady Vols to have to give up another point.
"That's par for the course," a befuddled Patrick said.
However, the Lady Vols managed to smile at the end, as they found a way to come back. In doubles, Tennessee was able to get the point after victories by Natalie Pluskota and Kata Szekeley (8-2), and Brynn Boren and Jesse Grace (8-4).
After Henderson's injury, Tennessee was down 2-1 and needed to win three of the four remaining singles matches. Pluskota was the first to win (6-1, 6-3) at No. 1, and then No. 3 Szekely won a few minutes later by the same score.
However, the other two matches were tight and the outcome was still in doubt, even though Tennessee just needed to win one of them.
Boren eventually rebounded from a brief second-set struggle to win 7-5, 6-2 at No. 2 to claim her seventh straight singles victory and the team match.
The remaining players, Grace and Pauline Schippers of No. 63 Auburn, split sets — 6-2, 4-6 — and played a 10-point tiebreaker, with Schippers winning 10-8.
The Lady Vols Alabama Sunday at 1 p.m. in the last home match for the senior Pluskota.
"It's unfortunate, but at the same time it's great," the Newnan, Ga., resident said. "I've had a great time here at UT."
John Shearer is a freelance contributor.