Senior Kristina Stastny is now 6-0 in her career as the last match on court with the doubles point still undetermined. (photo by Mike Bennett and Lighthouse Imaging)

#2 Irish Blank Michigan To Reach NCAA Round Of 16

May 13, 2006

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The second-ranked University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team (26-1) advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 2001 by posting a 4-0 victory against #29 Michigan (17-8) Saturday afternoon in the Eck Tennis Pavilion in the second round of the NCAA Division I Championship. The Irish – sporting an all-time high No. 2 national seeding – won a tightly-contested doubles point and then had little trouble in singles to advance to the final 16 in the national championship for the sixth time. Next up for Notre Dame – winners of 10 in a row – will be a matchup with #20 Kentucky on Thursday at Noon (PT) at Stanford University’s Taube Tennis Center.

ND’s seniors delivered a win in the final match remaining to give the Irish the doubles point. Notre Dame then turned in an impressive singles performance, losing more than three games in just one match en route to posing a trio of quick wins – while two other courts were just a game from victory.

“I think we started off the doubles a little nervous,” said Irish head coach Jay Louderback. “Michigan’s doubles – they’re feisty, all of them. They play and compete well. But that is maybe the best singles we’ve played all year. It was pretty impressive. Overall at every position, we played really well.”

The doubles point came down to the No. 3 match, where Notre Dame’s seniors – Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) and team captain Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) – came through with an 8-5 victory over Lindsey Howard and Nina Yaftali. The Irish veterans broke serve in both the eighth and 10th games to take a 7-3 advantage and then had a pair of match points they could not convert. After the Wolverines broke serve and held their own, Notre Dame finally finished off the match. A Connelly overhead at 30-30 gave the Irish another match point, which Stastny made the most of with an ace out wide, much to the delight of the raucous standing-room crowd filling the Eck Pavilion.

The Irish duo now stands 23-1 in dual matches, with the lone defeat coming in a tiebreaker. Connelly and Stastny are 34-6 overall this season, including 14-2 at home. It was just the fourth time Notre Dame – which has won the doubles point in all 27 contests – found itself with one match remaining and the doubles point still undetermined. Connelly and Stastny have come through in three of those instances and have 10 total clinching wins to their credit. Stastny improved to 6-0 in her career as the final match remaining with the doubles point undecided. Connelly earned the 109th doubles victory of her career (38 defeats) to tie the Notre Dame record first established by current assistant coach Michelle Dasso.

“When it came down to the last doubles match, it was good that we had our two seniors out there,” said Louderback. “They made it close, but we played a great last game. They came through big for us.”

Sophomore Brook Buck (Yukon, Okla./Oklahoma Christian School) and freshman Kelcy Tefft (Enid, Okla./Chisholm H.S.) started slowly at No. 2 against Allie Shafner and Chisako Sugiyama, falling behind 4-1 before rattling off seven consecutive games for an 8-4 win. The Irish duo has won six in a row and is now 33-5 overall this season, 23-3 in dual play.

The No. 1 match was a battle of two of the top doubles teams in the Midwest Region, and the 34th-ranked team of Kara Delicata and Debra Streifler notched an upset of the nation’s fifth-ranked squad – junior All-America twins Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) and Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) – by an 8-4 score. The Michigan team went a perfect 10-0 in Big Ten Conference matches this spring and is 15-4 overall in 2005-06. The Thompsons suffered just their fifth defeat in 27 matches this season.

“They compete really well,” said Louderback of Michigan. “Their No. 1 team was undefeated in the Big Ten. They’re a good doubles team. We knew they were going to be very good. Their Nos. 2 and 3 teams have won a lot of matches for them. We figured it would be close.”

As has become her trademark, 30th-ranked Catrina Thompson bounced back from a doubles defeat with an impressive singles performance, wasting little time in beating Delicata 6-0, 6-2 at No. 1. Over the past two seasons, she now stands 7-1 in dual-match singles action after losing in doubles. After having her match abandoned holding a 6-1, 5-0 lead on Friday, Thompson prevailed to improve to 28-10 overall this season, including 18-5 in dual action at No. 1. She has won five in a row and was 11-2 at home in 2005-06, as well as 16-2 vs. players for the ITA’s Midwest Region.

Next off the court was Buck, ranked 87th in the nation, who won 6-1, 6-2 against Yaftali at No. 3. She has won eight straight and 18 consecutive sets, dating back to March 29, and is 24-9 overall and 18-6 in dual play. Buck is 14-2 in home matches and 18-2 vs. the region.

Clinching the win was freshman Katie Potts (Brookfield, Wis./Divine Savior Holy Angels H.S.), who beat Howard 6-1, 6-2 at No. 6. She is 28-5 on the season, including 22-2 in duals. Potts earned her fourth clinching victory, and all of them have been notable. Twice she won in three sets with the dual-match score tied 3-3 (vs. Wake Forest and Texas A&M), and she also clinched Notre Dame’s 6-1 regular-season victory over the Wolverines on Feb. 15. Potts is 14-2 at home, 17-3 vs. the region, and 21-2 indoors as a collegian.

Tefft had match points, but eventually saw her contest with Streifler – who won a third-set tiebreaker in the last match remaining to give the Wolverines a 4-3 opening-round win over Nebraska on Friday – abandoned with her up 6-1, 5-2. Christian Thompson similarly was one game from victory, leading Elizabeth Exon 6-1, 5-1 at No. 2. The No. 5 contest was tight, as Stastny and Chisako Sugiyama were just about to begin an opening-set tiebreaker when ND clinched the match.

The Irish have 26 victories in a season for just the second time ever, after going 28-6 in their first season as a Division I program, 1985-86.

Notre Dame improved to 16-0 at home (20-match winning streak, dating back to last year) and 18-0 indoors this season, as well as 16-0 vs. teams from the Midwest Region and 11-1 vs. top-30 squads. The Irish have now won 12 of the last 13 meetings with Michigan.

The Irish are 16-12 all-time in the NCAA tournament and also advanced to the round of 16 in 1993, ’94, ’96, 2000, and `01. They advanced to the quarters in ’96, which marks the program’s best result since becoming a Division I team in 1985-86. Notre Dame moved to 13-3 when taking on lower-ranked teams in the NCAAs, as well as 8-2 at home.

Michigan – which had won eight of its previous nine matches – lost in the second round for the third time in the last four years. It was the final match for head coach Bitsy Ritt, who will end her 22-year career to take an administrative position at the university.

Kentucky registered a 4-0 upset of 15th-ranked Clemson Saturday morning on the Tigers’ home courts to reach the round of 16 for the fifth consecutive season. The Wildcats, 19-9 overall, finished tied for third in the Eastern Division of the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference and then advanced all the way to the league-tournament championship match. Kentucky and the Irish will play for the first time since 2003 after having been regular dual-match opponents from 1992 until then. The schools split those 12 meetings, with the Wildcats taking both of the last two by 4-3 scores. They have not previously met in the NCAA tournament.

The winner of that match will take on either #7 Miami or the winner of #10 California-#23 Fresno State on Friday at 3 p.m. (PT) in the quarterfinals. Should the Irish continue to win, they would play on Saturday at 9 a.m. in the semifinals and on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. in the title match, which will be covered by ESPN2.

[No. 2 seed] #2 Notre Dame 4, [No. 17-32 seed] Michigan 0SinglesNo. 1:  #30 Catrina Thompson (ND) def. Kara Delicata (M) 6-0, 6-2No. 2:  #113 Christian Thompson (ND) led Elizabeth Exon (M) 6-1, 5-1, abandonedNo. 3:  #87 Brook Buck (ND) def. Nina Yaftali (M) 6-1, 6-2No. 4:  Kelcy Tefft (ND) led Debra Streifler (M) 6-1, 5-2, abandonedNo. 5:  Kristina Stastny (ND) vs. Chisako Sugiyama (M) 6-6 (0-0), abandonedNo. 6:  * Katie Potts (ND) def. Lindsey Howard (M) 6-1, 6-2Order of Finish: 1, 3, 6*DoublesNo. 1:  #34 Delicata/Streifler (M) def. #5 Thompson/Thompson (ND) 8-4No. 2:  Buck/Tefft (ND) def. Allie Shafner/Sugiyama (M) 8-4No. 3:  Lauren Connelly/Stastny (ND) def. Howard/Yaftali (M) 8-5Order of Finish: 2, 1, 3** - indicates clinching victory * - indicates clinching victory