March 26, 2002
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – For the first time in more than three weeks, the 22nd-ranked University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team will enjoy the comforts of home when it plays host to #65 Illinois Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. (EST) at the Eck Tennis Pavilion. It also is the only home outing in a seven-match period for the Irish, who haven’t competed on friendly turf since a 5-2 win over #38 Ohio State back on March 2. Following Wednesday’s action, Notre Dame heads back out on the road for three consecutive matches against top-10 foes, beginning Saturday at second-ranked Wake Forest.
LAST WEEK’S ACTION: Notre Dame dropped its only match last week, as 51st-ranked Purdue pulled off a 5-2 upset of the Irish March 21 in West Lafayette, Ind. The loss snapped a 12-match winning streak for Notre Dame over the Boilermakers and dropped the Irish to 10-7 on the season. Notre Dame yielded the doubles point for the third time in four matches, as Purdue collected wins at the top two flights for the crucial opening marker. The Boilers then registered upset wins over ranked Irish players at the top two singles positions and used that momentum to secure the match victory.
Senior Lindsey Green (El Cajon, Calif.) and sophomore Alicia Salas (Engelwood, Colo.) picked up singles wins at the No. 3 and No. 4 flights for the Irish, with Salas going to a third-set tiebreak to gain the upper hand. Green’s win was her fifth in the last six matches, while Salas jumped to 15-2 in singles action this spring, and 22-5 overall this year. She also has won 18 of her last 20 singles matches.
IRISH vs. FIGHTING ILLINI: Illinois is 7-10 this season (2-3 in the Big Ten Conference) and is ranked 65th in the nation. The Fighting Illini have been ranked all season long, opening the season at No. 29 and standing 35th as recently as March 6. However, Illinois has struggled in the last month, losing six consecutive matches, including a 5-2 setback at #30 Arizona in their most recent outing last Saturday.
Notre Dame and Illinois have played seven common opponents so far this season — Illinois State, Michigan, Indiana, Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Tennessee and Purdue. Both teams are 2-5 against this group of seven, posting matching 6-1 wins over ISU and identical 5-2 triumphs over Michigan.
The Fighting Illini are paced by sophomore Jennifer McGaffigan, who is ranked 54th in the nation in singles play after posting an 8-8 record at the No. 1 flight. Classmate Tiffany Eklov also has performed well, logging a 9-7 record while splitting time between the No. 3 and No. 4 singles events. However, Illinois is still seeking some consistency in the doubles competition, having fielded 22 different pairs this year. The most effective combination appears to be the team of McGaffigan and freshman Cynthya Goulet, which has recorded a 4-3 mark at No. 1 doubles this spring.
Notre Dame and Illinois are meeting for the 22nd time, with the Irish holding a 14-7 edge in the series. The rivalry has been a bit more one-sided of late, with Notre Dame winning the last nine matches with the Fighting Illini and posting a 10-1 series record under head coach Jay Louderback. In fact, Illinois will be seeking its first victory over the Irish since a 5-4 verdict on Feb. 1, 1992, in Champaign, Ill. Notre Dame is 9-1 all-time at home against UI, with the only blemish being an 8-3 loss on Sept. 12, 1986.
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 Committee. Beginning March 20 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. The current 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 eight matches.
In doubles competition, Varnum and senior Lindsey Green (El Cajon, Calif.) remain firmly entrenched in the rankings, checking in at No. 30 in the latest survey. The Irish tandem is 16-13 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 100-46, 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 two victories away from becoming the fourth member of the Irish 100-Win Club in doubles. She has compiled a 98-37 record in partnered play, including a 17-11 mark during the 2001-02 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 2-6 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. The last time Notre Dame won the doubles point, but lost the match was 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 15-2 mark in dual singles matches, as well as a 13-4 dual doubles record. In fact, Salas is a stunning 38-9 in her career in singles matches. This season, she is 22-5 in singles and has won 18 of her last 20 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 wins this year. She also advanced through qualifying at the Omni Hotels Region IV Championships and has won seven of her last eight matches, with all but one victory coming in straight sets. In addition, Connelly is 17-14 in doubles play, including a 9-1 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.email@example.com, or Chris Masters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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).