Feb. 12, 2004
After an 11-day layoff, the 26th-ranked University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team (2-1, 0-0) heads to the state of Virginia for a busy weekend of action that will feature its first-ever meeting with #14 Virginia Commonwealth (6-0), as well as a pair of BIG EAST contests. The Irish and Rams will square off Friday at 1 p.m. (EST) in the Thalhimer Tennis Center in Richmond, before Notre Dame heads to the Burrows-Burleson Tennis Center in Blacksburg for a Saturday neutral-site match against Boston College (2-0, 0-0) at 1 p.m. and a Sunday tilt with #67 Virginia Tech (6-0, 2-0) at 10 a.m. Notre Dame holds a combined 13-0 all-time record against the Eagles and Hokies, who tied for third place in last year’s BIG EAST Championship, while VCU carries a 38-match regular-season winning streak and has not lost at home in more than three years.
LAST TIME ON THE COURTS: Notre Dame opened its season with three matches in four days from Jan. 29-Feb. 1, dropping the opener 4-3 at Michigan before rebounding for home victories against Ohio State (5-2) and Wisconsin (7-0). The Wolverines snapped a nine-match skid against the Irish, while Notre Dame beat the Buckeyes for the ninth consecutive time and the Badgers for the eighth straight time in regular-season play.
The Irish dropped a pair of three-set matches in losing to the 34th-ranked Wolverines. The home team captured the doubles point with a win in the final match on-court and then split the singles contests. With the score tied 2-2, the match came down to a trio of three-set contests, at Nos. 2, 5, and 6. Michigan’s Michelle DaCosta, ranked 92nd nationally in singles, gave the Wolverines a one-point advantage with a 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 win over 88th-ranked freshman Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) at No. 2. Leanne Rutherford clinched the Michigan win, edging junior Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 at No. 5. Prior to that contest, Connelly had been victorious in seven of her previous eight three-set affairs. Moments later, sophomore Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) provided the final Irish tally with a 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 7-5 win against Kara Delicata. The Wolverines pulled out a closely-contested doubles point to take a 1-0 lead. In the final match on-court, DaCosta and Rutherford, ranked 47th, delivered an 8-6 victory over twins Christian and Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) at No. 1. Senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.), ranked 14th in the nation in singles, posted her ninth win over a ranked opponent this season and improved to 13-6 by beating #37 Elizabeth Exon 6-2, 6-4 at No. 1.
Notre Dame swept the doubles portion and won four of six singles matches — including straight-set wins in the top three positions — in beating #48 Ohio State. The Irish held a 3-1 lead, as Catrina Thompson delivered the clinching win at No. 3 singles, upending Jackie Leskovar 7-5, 6-4. Christian Thompson posted a 6-2, 6-2 victroy over Erica Fisk at No. 2, while Salas won 7-6 (9-7), 6-0 vs. Lindsay Williams at the top spot. Notre Dame swept the doubles matches, and the Buckeyes got their victories in singles at Nos. 5 and 6.
The following day the Irish did not drop a set in blanking #64 Wisconsin. Notre Dame swept the doubles en route to its first 7-0 victory since the Badgers’ last visit, on March 1, 2002. The two closest matches were at the top of the lineup. Salas topped Katie McGaffigan 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 at No. 1, providing a measure of revenge as McGaffigan prevailed in three sets the last time the two met, at No. 4 in Wisconsin’s 4-2 triumph in the first round of the 2002 NCAA tournament. The loss was one of just three suffered by Salas that spring en route to matching the school record for dual-match singles victories in a season (24). Christian Thompson completed the sweep with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Shana McElroy at No. 2. McElroy was Wisconsin’s No. 1 singles player a year ago and entered this season ranked 79th nationally in singles.
IRISH vs. RAMS: Virginia Commonwealth, 14th in the latest national rankings after being 17th in the preseason, is 6-0 this season after posting a 4-3 victory over Old Dominion last Sunday. Prior to that, the Rams played host to the VCU 4-1 Invitational, in which they registered wins over Drexel, East Tennessee State, East Carolina, George Mason and Georgetown. The Rams currently hold a 38-match regular-season winning streak and have not lost at home in the last three-plus years. Last season was the best in VCU history, as the Rams finished 24-1 after a 20-0 regular season. VCU won its first-ever Colonial Athletic Association title, beating William & Mary 4-3 in the title match. The Rams fell to Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, ending the year at 15th in the national rankings after peaking at No. 8. Gone from that team are Marina Escobar, who finished last year ranked 42nd nationally in singles, and Barbara Zahnova, who was 47th in singles and 12th in doubles, earning berths to the NCAAs in both and reaching the semifinals in the latter. All-American Silvia Urickova, who partnered with Zahnova, returns. She was ranked 99th in the preseason in singles and 27th in doubles, but is now unranked. Head coach Paul Kostin is in his 23rd year of college coaching and 14th season with the Rams. He has a 331-71 (.823) record at VCU and a 604-181 (.769) overall record.
Notre Dame and Virginia Commonwealth will meet for the first time on Friday. VCU will be the 154th team faced by the Irish since their women’s tennis program gained varsity status in 1976. The Rams are just the second Colonial Athletic Association team to take on Notre Dame, joining William & Mary. The Irish and Tribe have met 12 times (Notre Dame leads 7-5), including in every season since 1994. The last time Notre Dame faced an opponent for the first time was a 5-0 win over Seton Hall in the 2000 BIG EAST Championship.
IRISH vs. EAGLES: Boston College enters the weekend with a 2-0 record, having posted 6-1 victories over Dartmouth and Columbia. The Eagles will play at Virginia Tech at 4 p.m. (EST) on Friday in the first of their four BIG EAST matches in the regular season. B.C. has all seven starters back from last year’s squad that was 13-8 and finished tied for third in the BIG EAST Championship. The Hokies and Eagles had their third-place match suspended with the score 3-3. Head coach Nigel Bentley is in his fourth season leading the Boston College program, having compiled a 35-27 (.565) mark.
Notre Dame and the Eagles will meet for second consecutive year in the regular season and 10th time overall. The Irish have taken all nine previous contests, registering shutouts in five of the last seven. This marks the first time the teams have played at a location other than at Notre Dame or in the BIG EAST tournament. The Irish and Eagles have met four times in the semifinals of the league championship: 1996, ’97, 2002, and ’03. Boston College and Drake are the only two teams to have played Notre Dame nine times and not gained a victory. No team is winless in 10 matches against the Irish.
The Irish and B.C. met twice last season, with Notre Dame winning both encounters. On Feb. 16, 2003, the Irish prevailed 6-1 in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. Boston College did get wins at No. 1 doubles from Emily Hellberg and Nida Waseem and at No. 3 singles from Allison Ashley. The No. 5 match between Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) and Amy Molden, which was the clincher, was decided in three sets. Notre Dame posted a 4-0 win in the BIG EAST semifinals on April 27 in Coral Gables, Fla. in match that started at 7 a.m. Singles was played first, and the Irish got wins at the middle four positions to clinch an eighth consecutive trip to the league title match. The No. 1 match between 40th-ranked Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) and Szilvia Szegedi was abandoned in the third set.
IRISH vs. HOKIES: Virginia Tech, 67th in the latest national rankings, enters the weekend 6-0 (2-0 BIG EAST) and will play host to Boston College Friday at 4 p.m. (EST) before welcoming Washington State for a 6 p.m. match on Saturday and the Irish on Sunday. The Hokies have victories against Seton Hall, James Madison, Syracuse, #65 Brown, Furman, and Radford. Their closest match was a 4-3 victory over the Bears. Tech returns four starters from last year’s squad that was 16-13, finished in a third-place tie in the BIG EAST Championship when its match with B.C. was suspended at 3-3, and was 69th in the final national rankings. Gone is Kristen Stubbs, who ended the year ranked 118th in singles and is now an assistant coach for the Hokies. This season, juniors Felice Lam and Elissa Kinard are ranked 37th in doubles. Head coach Terry Ann Zawacki-Woods is in her first year heading the Virginia Tech program after compiling a 25-41 (.379) record in three years at Charlotte.
Notre Dame and the Hokies will meet for the fourth consecutive season and fifth time overall. The Irish have won each previous meeting, including three shutouts. Since joining the BIG EAST in 2001, Virginia Tech has played Notre Dame in the regular season each year, while also falling in the semifinals of the ’01 BIG EAST Championship. This is Notre Dame’s first-ever trip to Blacksburg.
On Feb. 14, 2003, the 21st-ranked Irish beat the 71st-ranked Hokies 6-1 in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. Virginia Tech, which came into the match 9-0, won the doubles point with victories at Nos. 2 and 3. The Irish then did not drop a set in singles.
ITA RANKINGS: Notre Dame dropped five spots to 26th in the most recent Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) national rankings after going 2-1 on its opening weekend of play. The fall out of the top 25 is a rare one for the Irish, who have been listed among the best 25 in the nation in 131 of the last 136 sets of rankings, dating back to the preseason of 1995.
Senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) jumped 49 spots from her preseason listing to be 14th in the fall set of singles rankings (released in early January), while freshman Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) was 88th. Salas and sophomore Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) are 39th in doubles. Salas is just the fifth Irish player ever to be listed among the nation’s top 15, joining Melissa Harris (’92), Wendy Crabtree (’95), Jennifer Hall (’99), and current assistant coach Michelle Dasso (’01). Thompson is the 14th-highest-ranked freshman in the national rankings. Senior co-captain Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) was one of 12 players who were listed in the preseason singles rankings, but saw little or no action in the fall and thus had “insufficient data” to garner a ranking in this listing. She was 26th in the preseason, but then got injured in her second matche of the season.
In the Midwest Region singles rankings released at the end of the fall season, Salas was second in singles, while Thompson was 11th and her twin sister Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) came in 15th. In doubles, Salas and Connelly led the Irish at fifth, the Thompson twins were seventh, and junior Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) and sophomore Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) were 15th. The Thompsons were one of just three all-freshman teams in the country to earn regional rankings.
START ME UP: Notre Dame’s victory over Ohio State on Jan. 31 continued its success in home openers. The Irish have won 10 of their last 11 initial home matches of the season, with the only blemish a 4-3 loss to #4 Duke to open the 2001 season. The Irish defeat at Michigan to start th spring was a rarity, as it snapped an 11-match winning streak in road openers and was just the second time in the last nine years that the Irish started 0-1. Under Jay Louderback, the Irish are 10-5 in season openers, 13-2 in home openers, and 12-3 in road openers.
BIG EAST DOMINANCE: Though the BIG EAST Conference does not have round robin play in women’s tennis, and, thus, Notre Dame does not play a traditional conference schedule, the Irish have had great success against other league teams. Since joining the conference in 1996, Notre Dame has won five league titles and finished as the runner-up on three other occasions. Overall, the Irish hold a 32-4 all-time record against BIG EAST teams, with the only four losses coming to Miami. The Hurricanes prevailed in the conference title matches in 1998, 2000, and ’02, and became the first conference team to pin a regular-season loss on the Irish last season. Notre Dame is 15-1 all-time in regular-season play against current members of the BIG EAST. After this weekend, the Irish will not see another league team until Miami visits on April 4.
HERE COME THE IRISH: Notre Dame’s pre-spring break schedule features a number of teams the Irish have had a great deal of success against over the past few seasons. In regular-season action during the previous five seasons (1999-2003) against the first nine teams on the 2004 dual-match slate, Notre Dame holds a 33-1 (.971) record, with the lone blemish a 5-2 loss to Indiana in 2002. Including the postseason, the Irish are 36-2 (.947) during that span against Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, VCU, Boston College, Virginia Tech, BYU, Indiana, and Illinois. The Badgers beat Notre Dame 4-2 in the ’02 NCAA first round. Over the previous eight seasons (1996-2003), the Irish are 46-3 (.939) vs. those teams, with just a 6-3 defeat against BYU in 1997 and a 4-3 Wisconsin win in ’96 added to loss column. Overall in that stretch, the Irish are 54-5 (.915), including losing to Wisconsin 5-2 in the ’97 NCAAs.
TOUGH STRETCH COMING: The final 11 Notre Dame opponents — Duke, Tennessee, Iowa, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Marquette, Miami, William & Mary, Texas, Northwestern, and Purdue — have had considerably more recent success against the Irish than the initial nine ’04 foes (see previous note). In the latter half of the spring, the Irish will take on teams against whom they are 28-24 (.539) over the previous five seasons (1999-2003). Notre Dame holds a 41-35 (.539) mark against those schools since 1996.
There is other evidence that the spring break trip to Wikaloa, Hawaii will begin the more-difficult half of the season for Notre Dame. From that point on, seven of the 11 Irish matches will be against teams ranked in the preseason national top 30, after just two of the initial nine foes were. Eight of the last 11 Notre Dame opponents earned bids to the 2003 NCAA Championship, while just four of the first nine contests will be vs. NCAA qualifiers from a season ago.
COUNT ON THEM: Senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) and sophomore Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) both went undefeated in singles and doubles in the first weekend of the dual-match season. The pair teamed up for a trio of victories at No. 2 doubles, including a 9-7 clincher vs. Ohio State. In singles, Salas posted a trio of straight-set wins at No. 1, while Connelly was unbeaten at No. 4.
SUPER SALAS: Senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) has established herself as one of the elite players in college tennis this season. She stands 15-6 in singles, including 3-0 at No. 1, having already defeated nine ranked opponents. Against ranked foes, she is 9-5 this season, with wins over #15 Luana Magnani of USC, #29 Dianne Hollands of Arizona, #33 Alix Lacelarie of Clemson, #37 Elizabeth Exon of Michigan, #39 Megan Muth of William & Mary, #42 Jessica Rush of Northwestern, #69 Andrea Yung of Northwestern, #79 Shana McElroy of Wisconsin, and #85 Ashley Schellhas of Vanderbilt. In addition, Salas posted fall wins over Exon and Tennessee’s Ashley Robards (now 96th), who were both unranked at the time, but are now in the rankings.
Last fall, she fought through qualifying to reach the main draw of the ITA All-American Championships in October and then gained entrance to the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships the following month due to her runner-up result in the ITA Midwest Championships. She is just the fourth Notre Dame player ever to take part in the first two legs of the collegiate grand slam, joining Melissa Harris (’92), Wendy Crabtree (’96), Jennifer Hall (’99), and current Irish assistant Michelle Dasso (’01). When she was listed 14th in the fall edition of the ITA national singles rankings, Salas joined those same four as the only Notre Dame players ever listed among the top 15 players in college tennis. She also stands 9-2 in doubles, including 3-0 at No. 2.
Salas has an 86-31 career singles record, including 16 wins over ranked opponents. Her victory total ranks 16th in the Notre Dame record book. Salas’ career winning percentage of .735 ranks 11th all-time.
IRISH FACE TOUGH SLATE: The road to the 2004 NCAA Championship will be challenging for Notre Dame. Of the 20 dual-match opponents the Irish will face this season, 18 of them are among the 75 teams listed in the preseason ITA rankings and 12 earned berths in last year’s NCAA tournament. Highlighting Notre Dame’s schedule are four matches with teams in the preseason top 10 and eight with top-25 opponents. All four of the contests vs. top-10 teams will be away from home: vs. #4 Duke (March 10) and #10 Tennessee (March 13) in Wikaloa, Hawaii; at #9 North Carolina (March 28); and at #8 William & Mary (April 10). Among the top teams to come to Notre Dame are #14 Northwestern (April 15), #22 Miami (April 4), and #23 Illinois (March 4). The Irish also travel to #17 Virginia Commonwealth (Feb. 13) and #27 Texas (April 12).
TAKING A SHOT AT THE BEST: Notre Dame will get a shot at the preseaon No. 1 doubles team this spring, as Jessica Rush and Cristelle Grier of Northwestern (April 15, home) hold that distinction, leading four top-15 duos on the Irish schedule. The others are #5 Amanda Johnson/Tory Zawacki of Duke (March 10, Wikaloa, Hawaii), #10 Jennifer McGaffigan/Cynthia Goulet of Illinois (March 4, home), and #11 Megan Muth/Amy Wei of William & Mary (April 10, away). Four top-15 singles players – #4 Grier, #5 Johnson, #11 Megan Bradley of Miami (April 4, home), and #13 Tammy Encina of Tennessee (March 13, Wikaloa, Hawaii) – are also on the Irish dual-match slate. In all, 13 doubles teams and 27 singles players in the rankings are on the 2004 Irish schedule, as are two more players who were in the preseason singles rankings, but did not play in the fall and, thus, had “insufficient data” for listing in the most recent set.
BYU MATCH TIME CHANGED: The Feb. 20 match between Notre Dame and BYU has been moved up a half hour from the originally scheduled start time and will now begin at 3:30 p.m. in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The change was made to accomodate the Cougars’ travel plans.
IRISH HEAD COACH: Jay Louderback is in his 15th season at Notre Dame with a 257-125 (.673) record and his 25th year as a collegiate coach with a 461-303 (.603) mark. He ranks fifth among active NCAA Division I coaches in career victories. Louderback’s Irish have finished in the national top 30 in each of the last 11 seasons, have won 11 conference titles and registered 20 or more victories five times in the last eight campaigns. Since the preseason of the 1995 season, Louderback’s teams have been ranked in the national top 25 in 130 of 134 sets of rankings. After taking over a program looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance, Louderback has helped Notre Dame to the NCAAs 10 times in the last 11 years, including five appearances in the round of 16 and a 1996 quarterfinal finish. Louderback, a four-time Midwest Region coach of the year, has been honored as his conference’s top coach on eight occasions, including five times in eight years in the BIG EAST. In his time at Notre Dame, Louderback’s players have earned All-America honors 13 times, won three national ITA awards, and earned 18 invitations to the NCAA singles championship and 10 to the NCAA doubles tournament. His players have dominated the University awards during Louderback’s tenure, leading all sports in both Byron V. Kanaley awards (five) and Francis Patrick O’Connor awards (five). His family was honored with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Tennis Family of the Year Award for 2002. 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.
FORMER NATIONAL No. 1 BROOK BUCK HEADED FOR NOTRE DAME: Head coach Jay Louderback announced recently that Brook Buck (Yukon, Okla./Oklahoma Christian School) has signed a national letter of intent to enroll at Notre Dame and join his team in the fall of 2004. Buck, a three-time Oklahoma state singles champion, was ranked No. 1 in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) girls’ 16-and-under national rankings in January of this year before moving up to the 18-and-under age group. She had an outstanding year of 16s junior action in 2002. In addition to being the singles runner-up at the National Hardcourt Championships, she won three national doubles titles, claiming crowns in the Winter National Championships, the Spring Supernational Championships, and the Supernational Hardcourt Championships. A senior at Oklahoma Christian School, Buck won state No. 1 singles titles in class 3A in 2001, ’02, and ’03, and will go for another next spring. Despite only playing in the 18-and-under division since April of this year, Buck has earned a national ranking of 28th, which places her currently as the 10th-highest-ranked player who will enroll in college next fall.
KEEPING UP WITH NOTRE DAME TENNIS: For the fastest results of Notre Dame tennis matches, call the Notre Dame sports hotline at (574) 631-3000 and choose #8. The hotline provides schedule and results information for varsity sports and serves as a supplement to the game 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 and fans may be added to the sports information e-mail release list by contacting Bo Rottenborn at Rottenborn.firstname.lastname@example.org, or Eileen Carroll at email@example.com, who also can provide any information about the Irish tennis program.