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

From Staff Reports
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

Region 3-AAAAAA Softball

Lynch leads Lady Indians to finals with no-hitter

East Coweta softball coach Franklin DeLoach knows having three pitchers on his roster is a luxury that most opponents struggle to match. And ... Read More

High School Football

Indians move on to next challenge after big win over Westlake

There's no doubt that East Coweta's thrilling 7-0 football victory over Westlake last Friday at Garland Shoemake Stadium had a championship- ... Read More

High School Volleyball

Newnan, host East Coweta enter Area 3-AAAAAA tourney as teams to beat

When Newnan's volleyball program had to make a coaching hire late this summer, one wondered how the Lady Cougars would respond. But it didn' ... Read More

Middle School Football

East Coweta, Madras earn byes heading into playoffs

The postseason has arrived for the Coweta County Middle School Athletic League football season, and East Coweta and Madras have each earned ... Read More

GHSA Softball

State-bound, E. Coweta, Newnan battle for seeding

With only four teams participating in the Region 3-AAAAAA double-elimination softball tournament this week, both top-seed East Coweta and No ... Read More

High School Softball

Heritage advances to 2nd round for first time in school history

Heritage School’s softball team advanced to the second round of the GISA state tournament for the first time Thursday by sweeping Terr ... Read More