Kristy Frilling clinched the Irish berth into the BIG EAST Championship with her singles victory at the No. 2 court.

Irish Going For Five Straight At 2012 BIG EAST Championship

April 19, 2012

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The 17th-ranked Irish women’s tennis team will try for their fifth straight and 12th overall conference title this weekend as they take part in the BIG EAST Championships on the campus of USF at the Varsity Tennis Center in Tampa, Fla.

Notre Dame enters the 12-team tournament as the top seed for the 16th time in the past 17 seasons. The Irish will take on eighth-seeded Rutgers, which advanced over ninth-seeded Cincinnati (4-3) Thursday, at 9 a.m. (ET) Friday at the Varsity Tennis Center in quarterfinal action. The semifinals begin Saturday at 9 a.m., while the championship match gets underway Sunday at 9 a.m. Both semifinal matches, as well as the championship match, will be played at Varsity Tennis Center.

2012 BIG EAST Women’s Tennis Championship

USF Varsity Tennis Center

Tampa, Fla.

Second Round – Friday, April 20

#1 Notre Dame (17-7) vs. #8 Rutgers 9 a.m. (ET)

Semifinals – Saturday, April 21, 9 a.m. (ET)

Finals – Sunday, April 22, 9 a.m. (ET)

The BIG EAST Championship: All 16 members of the BIG EAST Conference field teams in women’s tennis but the league does not require round-robin competition during the season. The top 12 teams, as selected by the conference based on national rankings and head-to-head results, earn invitations to the league championship, a single-elimination team tournament with the winner gaining the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Championship. Play got underway Thursday with #8 Rutgers defeating #9 Cincinnati (4-3), #5 Georgetown taking down #12 Seton Hall (4-0), #7 Marquette winning over #10 St. John’s (5-0) and #6 Louisville shutting out #11 Pittsburgh (4-0). Play continues Friday with four quarterfinal matches at the Varsity Tennis Center. All matches are set for first serve at either 9 a.m. or noon.

The Irish in the BIG EAST Championships: Since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, Notre Dame has advanced to the championship match of the league tournament every season and earned 11 conference titles. The Irish won titles in their first two BIG EAST Championships, before falling to Miami as a runner-up in 1998. Notre Dame won three titles from 1999-2003, then returned as back-to-back champs in 2005 and 2006. After a runner-up finish to South Florida in 2007, Notre Dame has now won four consecutive championships from 2008-11.

The Irish have been the top seed heading into the tournament in 16 of their 17 seasons as members of the BIG EAST. In 2003, Notre Dame was the No. 2 seed. Irish head coach Jay Louderback has been named the conference Coach of the Year on nine occasions, while Notre Dame student-athletes have been tabbed the league championship’s Most Outstanding Player nine times. Notre Dame had 13 different players earn a place on the BIG EAST All-Tournament team when the conference announced the honor from 2003-2008, while seven different Irish players have been named to the All-BIG EAST Team since it began in ’09.

In 23 early-round matches (first round through semifinals), Notre Dame is undefeated, having registered 26 shutouts. Overall, the Irish are 38-5 all-time in the BIG EAST Championship.

The 2012 Irish Rotation: Notre Dame has turned to a rotation that features Shannon Mathews at the No. 1 court, Kristy Frilling at No. 2, Britney Sanders settling in at No. 3, Jennifer Kellner at No. 4, Chrissie McGaffigan at No. 5 and Julie Sabacinski and Katherine White splitting time at No. 6. Mathews has climbed to 32nd in the national singles rankings while Frilling checks in at 113th.

The doubles lineup sees Mathews and Frilling at No. 1, Sanders and Sabacincki/White at No. 2 and Kellner and McGaffigan at No. 3. Frilling and Mathews rank sixth nationally in the doubles polls, while Sanders and Sabacinski are 63rd.

The 2011 BIG EAST Championship: The Irish won their fourth straight and 11th overall conference title last season. As the tournament’s top-seeded team, the Irish earned a bye in the first round, before dispatching Georgetown, 4-0, in the quarterfinals. Notre Dame earned its 16th-straight trip to the tournament title match with a 4-0 victory over Marquette in the semifinals.

Notre Dame met USF in the tournament’s final match. The Irish had to battle to knock off the Bulls, claiming the doubles point with wins at No. 2 and 3 doubles, before claiming singles victories at courts two, four and five. Shannon Mathews clinched the match with her 6-4, 7-5 victory over Ecaterina Vasenina.

The Irish won three major conference awards and had three student-athletes named to the all-BIG EAST team announced during the league banquet held just before the tournament began. Junior Kristy Frilling was named the BIG EAST Player of the Year. Junior Shannon Mathews garnered BIG EAST Championship Most Outstanding Player, while Jay Louderback was named conference Coach of the Year for the ninth time in his career. Joining Frilling and Mathews on the all-conference team was freshman Jennifer Kellner.

Notre Dame vs. the Field: Notre Dame is 64-3 all-time against teams in the 2012 BIG EAST Championship with the only losses coming at the hands of South Florida in the 2007 conference tournament final as well as in 2011, and Marquette in 1989. The Irish have played every team in this year’s tournament at least once before. Notre Dame is 5-0 against BIG EAST foes this season having dropped only one point – against Louisville – out of a possible 35 contested.

Running the Gauntlet: The Irish tennis team faced one of the most difficult schedules in recent history, as 10 of their 24 opponents on the season entered their matchup with the Irish ranked in the top 25 nationally, according to the ITA. Notre Dame amassed a record of 4-6 in those matchups, including a hard-fought 4-3 victory over then-No. 16 Georgia Tech back on Feb. 26.

In addition to the 10 teams ranked within the top 25, three additional opponents were ranked within the ITA top 50 with five more ranked just outside of that. In those seven additional matches, the Irish put together a record of 7-1.

Irish Head Coach: Jay Louderback is in his 23rd season at Notre Dame with a 447-187 (.705) record and in his 33rd year as a collegiate coach with a 651-365 (.641) mark. He ranks third, behind only Indiana’s Lin Loring and Pepperdine’s Gualberto Escudero, among active NCAA Division I women’s coaches in career victories and became just the 10th collegiate women’s coach ever to register 500 wins (4-3 win at Texas A&M on March 18, 2006). Louderback’s Irish have finished in the national top 30 in each of the last 19 seasons and have won 11 BIG EAST titles since joining the conference in 1995-96. Since the preseason of the 1992-93 season, Louderback’s teams have been in the national top 30 in all but two sets of ITA rankings and reached an all-time high of No. 2 (a total of 17 different times over the last five years).

After taking over a program looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance, Louderback has helped Notre Dame to the NCAAs 19 times in the last 20 years (which only 10 other schools have done), including nine appearances in the round of 16, four quarterfinal finishes and back-to-back semifinal appearances in 2009 and 2010. Louderback, a four-time Midwest Region Coach of the Year, has been honored as the BIG EAST Coach of the Year nine times in 16 seasons. In his time at Notre Dame, Louderback’s players have earned All-America honors 28 times, won six national ITA awards and earned 28 invitations to the NCAA Singles Championship and 20 to the NCAA doubles tournament. In the fall of 2005, he delivered the first individual title at an ITA grand slam event, when juniors Catrina Thompson and Christian Thompson won the doubles crown at the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships. The feat was repeated in 2007 as Brook Buck and Kelcy Tefft won the doubles title at the ITA National Indoor Championships.

His players have dominated the University awards, leading all sports in both Byron V. Kanaley awards (10) and Francis Patrick O’Connor awards (seven). His family was honored with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Tennis Family of the Year Award in 2002 and, in 2006, Louderback was inducted into the USTA Missouri Valley Tennis Hall of Fame. The Arkansas City, Kan., native and 1976 graduate of Wichita State arrived at Notre Dame prior to the 1989-90 season after coaching for seven years at his alma mater and three years (men and women) at Iowa State.