March 20, 2002
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Winners of six of its last seven matches, the 22nd-ranked University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team (10-6) will look to continue its recent run of success Thursday when it visits No. 51 Purdue in a Hoosier State showdown at the Lafayette Sports Center in West Lafayette, Ind. It will be the only match in a 12-day span for the Irish, who won’t return to action again until March 27 when they play host to another Big Ten Conference foe, No. 65 Illinois.
LAST WEEK’S ACTION: Notre Dame extended its winning streak to six matches with a 5-2 victory over Air Force on March 9 in Colorado Springs. After dropping the doubles point for the second time in as many matches, the Irish recovered nicely, winning five of six singles contests to secure the victory. Senior Nina Vaughan (Corona del Mar, Calif.) picked up the clinching win for Notre Dame at No. 2 singles, outlasting Heather Shelby, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4).
The Irish then saw their winning streak come to an abrupt end with a 5-2 upset loss at No. 53 San Diego State on March 15. Notre Dame’s fortunes appeared promising early on, as the Irish locked up the doubles point, but the Aztecs responded by taking five singles victories to record the win. Freshman Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla.) registered a three-set win at No. 6 singles, her seventh consecutive individual victory.
IRISH vs. BOILERMAKERS: Purdue is 4-7 this season (2-1 in the Big Ten Conference) and is ranked 51st in the nation. The Boilermakers have been ranked all season long, peaking at No. 43 last week after wins over 50th-ranked Iowa (4-3) and No. 35 Illinois (5-2). However, they have tumbled eight spots this week after three consecutive losses, all to top-15 opponents (#13 Northwestern, #12 North Carolina and #9 Arizona State), with the latter two setbacks coming last weekend in Tempe, Ariz.
Notre Dame and Purdue have played four common opponents so far this season — Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Brigham Young and Iowa. The Irish are 2-3 against this quintet, logging 5-2 wins over BYU and Iowa, while the Boilers are 1-4 against the common group, registering a victory over Iowa.
Purdue’s biggest strength lies in its doubles play, where it has compiled a 21-19 record this spring. The team of Lynsey Fick and Melissa Woods has set the pace with a 9-7 record at the No. 2 flight. In singles competition, Shawn Zuccarini has split time between the lower three flights, posting a 7-8 record. Meanwhile, Melissa Iqbal has taken the reins at No. 1 singles, compiling a 5-6 mark this year.
Notre Dame and the Boilermakers will meet for the 19th consecutive season and 21st time overall in a series that dates back to the 1982-83 campaign. The Irish hold a 16-4 advantage, including an active 12-match winning streak (10 in a row in the Jay Louderback era). The Irish are 4-2 against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., and will be playing there for the second time in three seasons. Notre Dame has lost just two points in its last four matches with the Boilermakers, including 9-0 shutouts in 1999 and 2000 (the latter contest coming in West Lafayette). Last season, the Irish downed Purdue, 6-1, sweeping the doubles action and claiming five singles bouts (four in straight sets). The Boilers avoided their third consecutive shutout at the hands of Notre Dame when Gretchen Haynor outdueled #100 Nina Vaughan, 18-16, in an epic third-set tiebreak that saw Vaughan save seven match points and Haynor fight off three potential match winners.
AMONG THE NATION’S ELITE: Notre Dame has appeared in the Top 25 of the Omni Hotel Collegiate Tennis Rankings throughout the 2002 spring season, topping out at No. 13 on Jan. 30. The Irish held that spot for two weeks before losses to No. 4 Vanderbilt and No. 16 North Carolina at the USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships dropped them to 18th. The first eight polls of the year were conducted via balloting from the ITA National Ranking Committees. Beginning this week and for the remainder of the season, the rankings are based on the ITA’s point-per-match computer formula, in which teams are awarded points for victories based upon their opponent’s ranking.
Notre Dame has now been ranked in the national top 25 in 74 consecutive sets of rankings released by the ITA. After finishing the previous season 21st, the Irish earned a preseason ranking of 16th in the fall of 1997 and have been in the top 25 since then, peaking at a school-record No. 5 midway through last season. This week’s No. 22 placing represents just the third time Notre Dame has not been ranked in the top 20 in the last 142 polls, dating back to fall 1995.
In addition to its team placing, Notre Dame has three players showing up in the latest ITA individual rankings. In singles play, senior Becky Varnum (Colorado Springs, Colo.) is slotted at No. 75, while senior Nina Vaughan (Corona del Mar, Calif.) is ranked 118th. Varnum has been ranked throughout the year, topping out at No. 48 last fall. Meanwhile, Vaughan was ranked 61st during the fall before slipping out of the polls earlier in the spring. She reappeared in the last rankings at No. 110 and has won five of her last seven matches.
In doubles competition, Varnum and senior Lindsey Green (El Cajon, Calif.) remain firmly entrenched in the rankings, checking in this week at No. 30. The Irish tandem is 16-12 this year and has been a fixture on the national scene, rising up to No. 23 in the fall and remaining in the top 30 since then. In fact, Varnum has been ranked in the national top 35 in doubles in each of the past 23 sets of rankings, dating back to the fall 1999 rankings.
CENTURY CITY: Senior Becky Varnum (Colorado Springs, Colo.) reached a career milestone on March 15 at No. 53 San Diego State, picking up her 100th career doubles victory when she teamed with senior Lindsey Green (El Cajon, Calif.) for an 8-4 win at the No. 1 flight. With a career doubles record of 100-45, Varnum is just the third player in school history to crack the century mark in career doubles wins — Michelle Dasso logged a school-record 109 doubles triumphs from 1997-2001, while Susie Panther charted 101 doubles victories from 1982-86.
In addition, with her triumph at SDSU, Green is just one victory away from becoming the fourth member of the Irish 100-Win Club in doubles. She has compiled a 99-37 record in partnered play, including an 18-11 mark with Varnum this season.
A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME: The doubles point has been a good indicator of Irish success recently. This season, Notre Dame is 8-1 when winning the doubles point and 2-5 when losing it. Dating back to last season, Notre Dame has gone on to win the match 20 of the last 21 times the Irish have captured the doubles point. Ironically, the last time Notre Dame won the doubles point, but lost the match was its last time out — March 15 — when the Irish dropped each of the top five singles matches to lose a 5-2 road decision at No. 53 San Diego State.
SUPER SALAS: After not being a regular part of the Irish lineup a season ago, sophomore Alicia Salas (Engelwood, Colo.) has been a key to Irish success in 2002. She leads the team in both singles and doubles victories and has posted a 14-2 mark in dual singles matches, as well as a 12-4 dual doubles record. In fact, Salas is a stunning 37-9 in her career in singles matches. This season, she is 21-5 in singles and has won 17 of her last 19 matches. Earlier this year, Salas defeated 77th-ranked Agnes Wiski of Tennessee, marking the highest-ranked opponent she has beaten in her career. In doubles, she and senior Nina Vaughan (Corona del Mar, Calif.) notched an upset victory over Kentucky’s 27th-ranked team of Jill Buckley and Amy Trefethen 8-4 earlier this year. Salas has been particularly dominant at home this season. She is 13-1 in singles and 11-2 in doubles in the Eck Tennis Pavilion.
FABULOUS FROSH: Freshman Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla.) has hit the college tennis scene with a splash. She led the Irish in singles victories in the fall and is currently second on the squad with 19 singles wins this spring. She also advanced through qualifying at the Omni Hotels Region IV Championships and has won her last seven singles matches, with all but one victory coming in straight sets. In addition, Connelly is 16-14 in doubles play, including an 8-1 record with her current partner at the No. 3 flight, sophomore Alicia Salas (Engelwood, Colo.).
KEEPING UP WITH NOTRE DAME TENNIS: For the fastest results of Notre Dame tennis matches, call the Notre Dame sports information hotline at (574) 631-3000 and choose option No. 8. The hotline provides schedule and results information for varsity sports and serves as a supplement to the match recaps and weekly releases provided on the official athletic website at www.und.com. The hotline is the first medium updated with the results of each Notre Dame tennis match. In addition, media members may be added to the sports information e-mail release list by contacting Bo Rottenborn at Rottenborn.firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chris Masters at email@example.com.
IRISH FACE TOUGH SLATE: The Irish are facing a difficult schedule in 2002, having completed a stretch of four consecutive matches against top-15 teams in mid-February. Five of the teams currently ranked in the national top 10 are on Notre Dame’s schedule and 11 Irish opponents are ranked in the top 30. Of the 24 teams on the schedule, 19 are currently ranked. Fifteen of those teams participated in the NCAA tournament a year ago, including six squads that advanced to the round of 16. Notre Dame will end this season with a number of difficult challenges, as the final seven teams on the regular-season schedule are all currently ranked in the top 30 and five are in the top 15. That stretch consists of matches at #2 Wake Forest (March 30), at #7 Duke (April 1), at #8 North Carolina (April 2), home vs. #13 Northwestern (April 6), home vs. #26 Miami (April 7), at #15 William & Mary (April 13) and at #16 Texas (April 15).