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Irish On The Road Vs. No. 17 Illinois And Indiana This Week

March 31, 2003

URBANA-CHAMPAIGN, Ill. & BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team (11-7) will complete a stretch of seven matches in 13 days, including six against Big Ten foes, with a pair of road matches this week. The Irish will be at No. 17 Illinois (10-4) on Wednesday for a 3:30 p.m. (CDT) match before playing at Indiana (8-10) on Thursday at 2:30 (EST). The Irish, who have won seven of thier last nine matches overall and are 5-1 against Big Ten teams this season, will complete their eight-match slate against opponents from the conference. Notre Dame has won six of the last seven against the Hoosiers and 10 straight vs. the Illini.

LAST TIME ON THE COURTS: Notre Dame won its third in a row on Saturday by defeating No. 35 Ohio State 5-2 in Columbus. The Buckeyes lost the doubles point for just the second time in 14 matches this season when Notre Dame junior Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) and freshman Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) prevailed in a tiebreaker at No. 2 in the last match on-court. The Irish pair is 4-1 this season as the last remaining match on-court with the doubles point still hanging in the balance. In singles, Notre Dame got straight-set wins in four matches, with sophomore Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) clinching the victory with her seventh straight triumph at No. 5. Jackie Leskovar outlasted Irish freshman Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) in a final-set tiebreaker at No. 4 in the only three-set contest of the day, while #53 Sadhaf Pervez improved to 14-0 at No. 1 singles by downing #33 Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.).

IRISH vs. ILLINI: Illinois has a 10-4 (3-1 Big Ten) record and the best ranking in the program’s history, No. 17, heading into its match with the Irish on Wednesday, which is the last non-conference test before six straight Big Ten matches to end its regular-season slate. The Fighting Illini have won seven of their last eight, but had a six-match winning streak broken on Saturday in a 7-0 loss to Northwestern. Illinois was the first team to defeat No. 1 Duke this season, with the Illini pulling out a 4-3 home win on Feb. 23, two days after the Blue Devils posted a 5-2 win over Notre Dame in their first-ever match as the nation’s top-ranked team. Illinois rallied from a 3-2 deficit with three-set wins from Eldina Fazlic at No. 3 and Jennifer McGaffigan at No. 2. With the match tied 3-3, Duke’s Amanda Johnson broke the serve of McGaffigan (who has played No. 1 in every other match for Illinois over the past two seasons) to take a 6-5 lead in the third set, but failed to serve out the match. McGaffigan forced, and won, a tiebreaker to give Illinois the victory. The Illini are 5-1 in 4-3 matches. Illinois’ losses came to #7 Tennessee, #19 Miami, #26 Northwestern, and #28 Oregon. The Illini were 45th in the preseason, but climbed into the top 25 after defeating Duke. Illinois is currently the top-ranked team in the Midwest Region after finishing ninth in the region a year ago.

McGaffigan, who was 39th in the preseason national singles rankings, is 66th. She is 15-8 overall and 8-5 in dual matches (7-5 at No. 1), with her best win coming against #19 Johnson. Junior Tiffany Eklov is 106th in singles with an 18-10 record and a win over #39 Liina Suurvarik of Illinois State. In doubles, McGaffigan and senior Michelle Webb are ranked 15th with a 21-4 record, including 11-2 in dual matches. The pair won the title at the Omni Hotels Midwest Championships last fall, a run that began with a win over Notre Dame’s team of Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) and Jennifer Smith (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg H.S.). The Illinois team also posted a win over the current No. 10 team in the nation, Duke’s Kelly McCain and Hillary Adams.

The Irish and Illini have played seven common opponents this season: Western Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Duke, Tennessee, Wake Forest, and Iowa. Illinois is 5-2 against them, while Notre Dame is 4-3, with the Duke results the difference.

Illinois returned seven of eight letterwinners from last year’s team that was 11-12 (6-4 Big Ten) and finished 45th. The Illini, ranked 29th in the preseason, finished fourth in the conference and lost to Iowa in the opening round of the league tournament.

Head coach Sujay Lama is in his fifth year with a 64-48 (.571) record.

Notre Dame and Illinois will meet for the 23rd time — all since 1980. The Irish have won each of the last 10 and lead the all-time series 15-7. Notre Dame took the initial meeting, 5-4 in 1980, but Illinois won five of the first eight contests between the schools and led the series 7-5 prior to the current Irish winning streak. The last Illinois win was 5-4 decision in 1992 in Urbana-Champaign. Under head coach Jay Louderback, the Irish have won 11 of 13 matches. The Illini are the second-most common opponent in the history of Notre Dame women’s tennis, with Northwestern’s 24 matches against the Irish as the only greater total. Only Purdue (17) has suffered more losses at the hands of the Irish than Illinois. Each of the last two matches have been 4-3 Notre Dame victories. Illinois leads the series in Urbana-Champaign 5-4, but Notre Dame has three straight road victories vs. the Illini. This will be the first time in history that Illinois enters the match with a higher national ranking than the Irish. With a new set of rankings scheduled to be released before the match on Wednesday, Illinois currently holds its highest-ever ranking and Notre Dame has its lowest-ever listing.

A year ago, 23rd-ranked Notre Dame squeaked out a 4-3 win over unranked Illinois in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The teams split the singles matches, but the Irish took the doubles point, which proved to be decisive. After winning at Nos. 1 and 3 doubles to take a 1-0 lead, Notre Dame got straight-set wins at Nos. 3-5 singles to secure victory. Illinois’ 139th-ranked Tiffany Eklov registered a minor upset at No. 2, beating #118 Nina Vaughan 6-4, 7-5. Only the No. 6 match went three sets, with Eldina Fazlic topping Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) to account for the final one-point margin.

IRISH vs. HOOSIERS: Indiana stands 8-10 (0-4 Big Ten) heading into this week. After Thursday, the Hoosiers will have six conference matches to finish their regular-season schedule. Indiana returns home after an 0-3 road trip having lost eight of its last 11 matches. None of the Hoosier victims currently hold national rankings. Indiana has played five top-35 teams, but dropped all of those decisions. The Hoosiers were 46th in the preseason, but have since fallen out of the national rankings. Indiana and Notre Dame have played eight common opponents this season: Western Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Duke, Tennessee, Kentucky, Wake Forest, and Ohio State. The Irish are 4-4 against those teams, while the Hoosiers have beaten only the Broncos.

A year ago, Indiana was 17-10 (5-5 Big Ten) and finished 43rd after being as high as 26th. The Hoosiers fell to Wisconsin in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Championship, but still received an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament, dropping a 4-3 decision to Auburn in the opening round.

Two-time National Coach of the Year Lin Loring is in his 30th season and is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division I women’s tennis with a 628-204 (.755) mark. Thursday’s match will feature two of the top five winningest active coaches in NCAA Division I women’s action, as Irish head coach Jay Louderback’s 454-300 (.602) record places him fifth on that list.

Indiana and Notre Dame will meet for the 15th straight season and the 17th time overall. The Hoosiers lead the series 10-6, but the Irish have won six of the last seven. Indiana won the first three meetings (1985, ’87, ’89) by 9-0 scores on the way to taking the first nine matches between the schools. The Irish finally broke through with a 7-0 victory in 1996 and proceeded to win six straight until Indiana got a 5-2 win last year. Northwestern’s 16 wins over Notre Dame are the most by one school in the history of the Irish program, but Indiana, Duke, and Tennessee are tied for second-most with 10 all-time victories vs. Notre Dame. Indiana, with a 7-6 mark, is one of just five teams on the 2003 schedule to have a winning record against Irish teams coached by Jay Louderback (also 10-0 Duke, 10-4 Tennessee, 6-2 Texas, and 3-0 Arizona State). The Hoosiers have won six of nine matches in Bloomington, but the Irish have taken each of the last three. Unless Indiana is listed in the new national rankings released on Wednesday, this will be the first time since 1996 that both teams are not ranked at the time of the match.

In 2002, #40 Indiana dealt the 13th-ranked Irish a 5-2 home loss on Feb. 3, snapping the six-match skid and giving Notre Dame its first back-to-back defeats at home since 1997. The Hoosiers won the bottom two matches to take the doubles point, but Notre Dame rallied by winning quickly at the Nos. 5 and 6 singles positions to take a 2-1 lead. Indiana then swept the top four singles contests for the final margin, highlighted by Amanda Field’s 7-5, 7-5 upset of No. 58 Becky Varnum at No. 1.

IRISH HEAD COACH: Jay Louderback is in his 14th year at Notre Dame with a 250-122 (.672) record and his 24th year as a collegiate coach with a 454-300 (.602) mark. Louderback’s Irish have finished in the national top 30 in each of the last 10 seasons, have won 10 conference titles and registered 20 or more victories five times in the last seven seasons. After taking over a program looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance, Louderback has helped Notre Dame to the NCAAs nine times in the last 10 years, including five appearances in the round of 16 and a 1996 quarterfinal finish. His teams have been ranked in every set of national rankings for an 11-year span from the beginning of the 1992-93 season to the present. Louderback reached three milestones earlier this season, gaining his 400th career victory as a women’s coach (Jan. 25 vs. Wisconsin), becoming the first coach in Notre Dame women’s tennis history to win 250 matches (March 29 vs. Ohio State), and becoming just the fifth active NCAA Division I women’s coach to win 450 career collegiate matches (March 8 vs. BYU).

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 seven 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 16 invitations to the NCAA singles championship and 10 to the NCAA doubles tournament. His players have dominated the university awards, leading all sports in both Byron V. Kanaley awards (five) and Francis Patrick O’Connor awards (four). Louderback gained his 400th win in collegiate women’s tennis (45 of his victories came in three years coaching the Iowa State men’s team) on Jan. 25, 2003 vs. Wisconsin. The Arkansas City, Kan., native, and 1976 graduate of Wichita State arrived at Notre Dame prior to the 1990 season after coaching for seven years at his alma mater and three years (men and women) at Iowa State.

AMONG THE NATION’S ELITE: Despite having won seven of its last nine matches (with the lone losses coming to #8 Arizona State and #9 William & Mary), Notre Dame is down 21 spots to 48th in the most recent Omni Hotels Collegiate Tennis Rankings, completing a two-week drop of 33 positions. The drop can be attributed to the fact that the last two weeks were the first sets of rankings to be determined by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s point-per-match computer formula, while each of the previous listings were based on coaches’ votes. The computer rankings do not take into account margin of victory or defeat and, thus, the three 4-3 Irish losses to top-15 teams (#7 Tennessee, #9 William & Mary, and #15 Kentucky) count the same as 7-0 defeats. In addition, six of the eight Notre Dame victories counted in the most recent set of rankings were against teams now unranked.

Notre Dame’s No. 48 ranking is the worst for the Irish since the ITA began ranking more than 25 teams in 1993. The previous low was 27th, where they appeared last week and once in 1993. Prior to last week, Notre Dame had been ranked in the top 25 in each of the last 125 sets of rankings released by the ITA, dating back to fall, 1995. Nonetheless, the Irish have been ranked continuously for all of 11 consecutive seasons, a streak dating back to the preseason listing in the fall of 1992 and spanning nearly 200 sets of rankings.

A new set of individual rankings was released last week, with junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) moving up to a career-high 33rd in singles. She is the highest-ranked Notre Dame player since Michelle Dasso finished her career fifth in the final 2001 rankings. Meanwhile, classmate Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) dropped 12 spots to 77th in singles. In doubles, senior Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash./Mercer Island H.S.) and freshman Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) dropped six positions to No. 33. The next set of individual rankings will be released April 9.

ALMOST, BUT NOT QUITE: Notre Dame has had a series of near-misses in upset attempts this season. The Irish have played seven teams currently ranked in the top 26, losing each match. Three of those contests were decided by 4-3 scores, while another trio were 5-2 decisions. Tennessee, currently ranked seventh, won the doubles point in the last match on-court in beating the Irish by a point. No. 15 Kentucky got a win at No. 5 with the match tied 3-3 to beat Notre Dame, while ninth-ranked William & Mary rallied from a 2-0 deficit and got three-set wins at Nos. 2 (rallying from down two service breaks, 4-1, in the third) and 4 (with the match tied 3-3) for the victory. The Irish also dropped 5-2 matches to No. 1 Duke, No. 8 Arizona State, and No. 11 North Carolina. Notre Dame’s inability to convert on any of these upset opportunities is the main reason the Irish are ranked 48th nationally.

TINKERING TURNS TO TRIUMPH: Irish head coach Jay Louderback has proven why he is one of just five active coaches in NCAA Divsion I women’s tennis with 450 career victories by making three relatively minor lineup changes that have led to much Irish success. At the beginning of March, Louderback flipped his Nos. 1 and 2 players and his Nos. 5 and 6 competitors in the singles lineup. Notre Dame proceeded to go 7-2 in the month after posting a 4-5 record up to that point in the season. Junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) moved into the No. 1 spot for the first time in her career and is 6-3 in that spot, while classmate Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) dropped to No. 2 after being 4-5 at the top spot. Salas has won three straight and is 5-4 overall at No. 2. At the bottom of the singles lineup, Louderback flip-flopped the Connelly sisters, acting as a catalyst for both of them to begin hot streaks. Sophomore Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) is 8-1 at No. 5, while freshman Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) has won seven of nine at No. 6. The two combined for four match-clinching victories during March.

In doubles, Louderback put Leslie into the No. 3 position on Feb. 24. Since then, Notre Dame has won the match’s initial point eight times in 10 matches, after doing so just four times in the initial eight matches of the season.

BIG ELEVEN (OR TWELVE)?: Though Notre Dame participates in the BIG EAST Conference in women’s tennis, a glance at the Irish schedule may not bear out that fact. Notre Dame will face only a trio of BIG EAST foes (Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami) during the regular season, but will take on a total of eight teams from the Big Ten Conference, including six in seven matches. Only Penn State, Minnesota, and Michigan State from the Big Ten will not play the Irish this season. A year ago, Notre Dame played nine matches against Big Ten teams (including the NCAA tournament), posting a 5-4 mark. In ’03, the Irish are 5-1 thus far, losing only to Northwestern, with two matches remaining this week.

Notre Dame has had a long history of playing Big Ten teams, posting an all-time 102-60 (.630) mark, averaging over six matches per season against Big Ten teams in the 27-year history of the program. Each of the six most common opponents for Notre Dame in the history of the program are members of the Big Ten (Northwestern-24 matches, Illinois-22, Purdue-22, Michigan-21, Wisconsin-18, Indiana-16).

DYNAMIC DOUBLES: Since Notre Dame head coach Jay Louderback made a minor change in his doubles lineup on Feb. 24, inserting Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.), the Irish have won the doubles point in eight of 10 matches, including each of the last five. Notre Dame had taken a 1-0 lead in four of the eight matches prior to that. Overall, the Irish have won the doubles point 12 times in 18 matches this season, including in nine of 11 contests in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. Notre Dame is 9-3 when winning the first point and 2-4 when dropping it.

SECOND TO NONE: Notre Dame’s No. 2 doubles team, junior Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) and freshman Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.), has been outstanding of late, winning eight of its last nine matches. The pair has been a major reason the Irish have won the doubles point nine times in the last 10 matches, including each of the last five. The team has been especially effective in the clutch, posting a 4-1 record as the last match remaining on-court with the doubles point still hanging in the balance. In that situation, Salas and Connelly won against Wisconsin (8-6), Kentucky (8-6), Michigan (9-8), and Ohio State (9-8), while losing to Tennessee (8-5). The Irish pair is 11-5 in dual matches and 14-7 overall, while its match vs. BYU was abandoned with Notre Dame leading 6-3.

COUNT ON THE CONNELLYS: Irish sophomore Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) and freshman Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) have both been consistently superb in singles of late, accounting for two major reasons the Irish have won seven of their last nine matches. Sarah Jane Connelly has won seven matches in a row at No. 5 to improve to 20-10 overall this season, including 12-5 in dual matches. Both totals match team highs. Since being moved into the No. 6 position on March 1, Lauren Connelly is 7-2 after holding an 11-11 mark up to that point.

LETHAL LESLIE: Irish junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.), who missed all of last spring with a shoulder injury after going 30-12 as a freshman, has returned to action this spring with much success, establishing herself as one of the most dangerous players in college tennis. She is 14-8, including 12-6 in dual matches, and is ranked 33rd nationally in singles, having defeated seven ranked players. Leslie returned after a 14-month layoff at the Collegiate Tennis Kickoff Classic, going 2-2 with wins over #60 Tina Hojnik of Georgia and #83 Jennifer Magley of Florida. After starting the dual-match season 1-3, she has won 11 of her last 13 matches, including straight-set wins over #15 Amanda Johnson of Duke, #26 Candice Fuchs of William & Mary, #48 Nathalie Roels of Kentucky, #98 Karin Coetzee of Wake Forest, and #105 Kendra Strohm of Texas. She moved into the No. 1 singles position for the first time in her career at March 1 and is 6-3 at that spot. Six of her losses came to players currently ranked, including three in the top 15, with one decision in a match tiebreaker and another in a third set. In addition, she had to retire two points from victory vs. Michigan’s Michelle DaCosta.

COMEBACK CONNELLY: In nine matches in March, Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) lost the first set on five occasions, but rebounded to win each time, grabbing victories vs. Wake Forest, BYU, Arizona State, Michigan, and Purdue. In all this season, she has dropped the opening frame 16 times, but holds a 7-9 record in those matches. She is 10-2 in 2002-03 in matches that extend beyond the second set (6-2 in three-setters and 4-0 in match tiebreakers). A year ago, she was 3-11 when losing the initial set and 3-7 in matches decided in more than two sets.

DO I KNOW YOU?: A few Irish players have connections with one Illinois player and a pair of Indiana competitors. Illini freshman Jessica Barki is from Oklahoma City, Okla., the same hometown as Notre Dame sisters Sarah Jane and Lauren Connelly. Barki graduated from Casady High School last year, while both Connellys are recent graduates of Bishop McGuinness High School (Sarah Jane-’01, Lauren-’02). Indiana has a pair of Indianapolis natives on its roster, senior Jessica Levin and sophomore Jessica Groth, two graduates of North Central High School. Notre Dame junior Emily Neighbours is also from Indianapolis, though she graduated from the Park Tudor School.

THOMPSON TWINS SET TO JOIN IRISH: Jay Louderback recently announced the signing of two incoming freshmen for the 2003-04 school year. Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) and Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) have signed national letters of intent to enroll at Notre Dame next year and join the Irish tennis team in the fall. The sisters were ranked No. 1 in the USTA Girls’ 18-and-under national doubles rankings last year and both are among the top 16 high school seniors in the country in singles. The Thompsons, who helped Bishop Gorman High School to the Nevada state championship, have a number of notable juniors doubles titles in the 18s to their credit, including the 2001 Super National Winter Doubles Championship, the ’01 National Clay Court Championships and the ’02 National Grass Court Championship. Catrina Thompson is 39th in the USTA girls’ 18s singles rankings and is the 16th-highest-ranked prep senior in the United States. Christian Thompson is ranked 11th nationally in singles and is fifth among players who will enter college in the 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 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, or Chris Masters at