April 30, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – For the 11th time in the last 12 years, the University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team has advanced to the NCAA Championships. The 21st-ranked Irish will face No. 38 Missouri Friday, May 9 in Nashville, Tenn., at the Brownlee O. Currey Tennis Center on the Vanderbilt University campus. The host Commodores, the tournament’s 10th seed and ranked No. 15 in the nation, will play America East Conference champion Boston University in the other first-round match. The winners will meet May 10 in second-round play for the right to advance to the round of 16, to be held May 15-24 in Gainesville, Fla. Match times for the Nashville subregional have yet to be determined.
“We are extremely excited about playing in this year’s NCAA tournament,” Notre Dame head coach Jay Louderback said. “It was certainly nice to be able to wait for the brackets and know that we were going to be in the field. However, you’re always a little nervous waiting to see who your first opponent is going to be. Missouri is a tough team and they play in a very challenging conference (the Big 12). We will definitely have to be on our game against them.”
Notre Dame (15-8) qualified for the 2003 NCAA Championships after winning the BIG EAST Conference title and the league’s automatic bid last Sunday in Miami. The Irish have won 11 of their last 14 matches, including a thrilling 4-3 victory over then-No. 21 Miami in the BIG EAST championship match. Notre Dame has played a rugged schedule this season, one that featured 18 ranked opponents in 23 matches — the Irish were 10-8 against those ranked foes.
Leading the way for Notre Dame has been junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.), who is 39th in the latest singles rankings with a 17-9 record. Junior Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) is 94th in the same survey with a 23-14 mark. In addition, the doubles team of senior Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash./Mercer Island H.S.) and freshman Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) is No. 41 in the nation with a 12-11 record.
The Irish have reached the NCAA Championships in all eight years of their membership in the BIG EAST Conference, advancing as far as the quarterfinals in 1996. Last season, Notre Dame lost to Wisconsin, 4-2, in the first round, marking the first time in school history the Irish had failed to win at least one NCAA tourney match.
Missouri (15-7) is making its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Championships after reaching the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament last week. The Tigers have won seven of their last 11, and peaked at No. 34 in the rankings on March 24. MU is led by sophomore Urska Juric, who is ranked 36th in the country and has a 30-10 singles record. Meanwhile, the Tiger doubles team of Juric and sophomore Katka Sevcikova is rated No. 15 in the nation, posting a 28-5 record.
Notre Dame and Missouri will be playing one another for the first time. They have met two common opponents in dual match competition this year (Purdue and Texas), with the Irish going 2-0 and the Tigers winding up 1-1 against that duo. Notre Dame is 24-12 (.667) against current Big 12 members all-time, including wins in eight of its last nine matches against that conference.
— ND —