Twice as nice: Pluskota advances after earning pair of All-American honors in final year

From Staff Reports
sports@newnan.com
ATHENS — Becoming an All-American tennis player in college is nothing new to two-time recipient Natalie Pluskota.
But the third time on Thursday was quite the charm for the University of Tennessee senior.
Pluskota made history for the Lady Volunteers at the NCAA Tournament at the University of Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens.
The Newnan native and former Northgate High star became the fifth player in Tennessee’s women’s history to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Singles Tournament and to also earn All-American honors in singles and doubles.
A tenacious competitor throughout her varsity career before having her jersey retired by her alma mater, Pluskota rallied to defeat Arizona sophomore Lacey Smith 5-7, 6-1, 7-5 in her morning singles match.
“I’m pumped. I came here to win and I did that today. I’m extremely excited to be an All-American again. It was a big goal of mine coming in my freshman year [from Northgate]. To me it’s really, really important and I accomplished that. But I don’t want to stop here.”
In the afternoon, she then teamed with junior Kata Szekely to upset third-seeded and No. 4 nationally-ranked Shianne Featherston and Lauren McHale of North Carolina in doubles, 7-6, 6-3 to also reach the round of 16 in the NCAA Doubles Tournament.
Pluskota, who previously a two-time All-American in doubles, also becomes the second Lady Vols player to reach the Sweet 16 in both singles and doubles in the same season.

She’ll face third-seeded Nicole Gibbs of Stanford in today’s national quarterfinal match, also at Georgias. It came after Pluskota rallied from a set down in Thursday’s second-round matchup with Smith. She dominated the second set before racing out to a 5-2 lead in the third.

“She’s done it [before] in doubles and to have her do it in singles in her senior year is just great,” said Tennessee coach Mike Patrick of Pluskota. “She’s improved every year and she’s been able to overcome injuries, so we’re just proud of her.”

The doubles victory over Featherston and McHale was equally impressive despite winning in straight sets.

A back-and-forth first set found the Lady Vols pair holding serve and trailing 5-4 before winning the next two games. An eventual tiebreaker had both tandems splitting the first four points before Pluskota and Szekely took the next five to win the set.

Pluskota and Szekely then improved their record to 16-1 with their ninth consecutive victory after rallying back from two games down in the second set. The duo took the next three games and six of the last seven to pull off the upset.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Pluskota of her third All-American honor. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love this university and I try to go out every day and give it everything I’ve got.”



More Sports

High School Baseball

Union Grove blanks Northgate with no-hitter

Union Grove blanks Northgate with no-hitter MCDONOUGH - The law of gravity states what goes up, must come down. And what goes down, tends t ... Read More


High School Soccer

Hawks hold off rival Lions for win, No. 2 seed

The temperature was a bit warmer, but otherwise Thursday's second soccer showdown between rivals Trinity Christian and The Heritage School p ... Read More


High School Track & Field

Lady Indians, Cougars lead local teams

FAIRBURN - East Coweta's girls track team made enough noise during Wednesday's opening day of the Region 3-AAAAAA meet to find itself traili ... Read More


High School Track & Field

Four Lady Vikings qualify for state sectionals

Northgate track & field lineups headed into the final day of this year's Region 4-AAAAA meet with a chance to add to a growing list of a ... Read More


High School Tennis

Lady Vikings clinch berth in tournament

Northgate's girls tennis team followed their boys teammates with a berth into this year's state playoffs after finishing fourth in its host ... Read More

High School Baseball

Vikings stay in control, beat Chiefs in walk-off

Northgate took another step toward punching its ticket to the Class AAAAA baseball playoffs on Wednesday with a dramatic 5-4 victory over vi ... Read More