March 15, 2006
ORLANDO, Fla. – Freshman Kelcy Tefft (Enid, Okla./Chisholm H.S.) came through in a three-set battle with another rookie, Tara Iyer, in the final match remaining to give the second-ranked University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team (13-0) one of its biggest victories in program history, a 4-3 win against #5 Duke (8-3) Wednesday at Sanlando Park. The Irish – who were without junior All-American Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.), who was sidelined with the flu – earned their first-ever victory in 13 all-time meetings with the Blue Devils and improved to 3-0 against top-10 squads this season. It also matched the highest-ranked victory in program history.
“This was an unbelievable performance by our team,” said Irish head coach Jay Louderback, who earned the 499th victory of his career – the first against Duke. “It’s the best effort I’ve seen from our players. They just played so well, and it was a great match. For us to be able to be without one of our top players and still beat Duke is a huge accomplishment.”
In a battle of squads that had both won the doubles point in every prior match this spring, Notre Dame swept the doubles matches to take a 1-0 lead. Irish junior All-American Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) – Christian’s twin sister – registered an upset of the nation’s #1-ranked singles player when Daniela Bercek was forced to retire in the first set. After Duke got a straight-set win at No. 4, Notre Dame senior captain Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) – pressed into singles duty due to Christian Thompson’s absence – delivered a two-set win at No. 6 to put the Irish up 3-1. Duke would not go quietly, gutting out three-set wins at Nos. 2 and 5 to tie the score at 3-3 and put the match in the hands of the rookies at No. 3.
Tefft – playing No. 3 for just the third time – eventually knocked off Iyer, who was the top-ranked 18-and-under player in India prior to enrolling at Duke, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3. It was a trial by fire for the Irish freshman, who has now won eight in a row and stands 18-2 on the season, including 10-1 in dual action. But Tefft has been so dominant this season that she had played only one other three-setter (which was abandoned with her leading 5-3 against North Carolina) as a collegian. In fact, only three of her 19 collegiate matches prior to Wednesday had been close affairs (also a 7-6, 6-4 win over Illinois’ Momei Qu in the fall and a match-tiebreaker loss at Michigan this spring). Nonetheless, she came through when Notre Dame needed her most, following the lead of fellow rookie Katie Potts (Brookfield, Wis./Divine Savior Holy Angels H.S.), who won in the same situation against #23 Wake Forest on Feb. 11 in the only other Irish match this spring that was in doubt late into the singles action. Tefft has been nearly perfect in close sets (6-4, 7-5, or 7-6), going 11-2.
The Duke rookie was a collegiate-high 62nd in the latest set of ITA national singles rankings, giving Tefft her second win over a ranked player in her recent winning streak. She has clinched Notre Dame’s two highest-ranked victories this season, after knocking off then-#67 Preethi Mukundan in the 5-2 Irish win against #9 Harvard on Feb. 19.
The only other time Notre Dame knocked off a top-five opponent came on April 4, 1996, when the eighth-ranked Irish prevailed 5-4 at #5 Texas. The 1995-96 season – which saw the Irish reach the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament – was the only other campaign in which Notre Dame posted three or more wins against the top 10.
Notre Dame has now won five consecutive 4-3 matches, dating back to last season, after having lost eight in a row prior to that.
The Irish – facing one of their toughest tests of the season in doubles without the services of their top team (#4 Thompson/Thompson) – still managed a sweep in partnered play for the 10th time this spring. Tefft and sophomore Brook Buck (Yukon, Okla./Oklahoma Christian School), ranked 39th, moved up to the No. 1 spot and earned the biggest doubles win of their careers, knocking off the 11th-ranked duo of Daniela Bercek and Jessi Robinson by an 8-5 score. The Irish pair improved to 22-3 on the season, including 12-1 in dual action (3-1 filling in at No. 1). Buck and Tefft earned their highest-ranked win of the season.
Clinching the doubles point was the team of Potts and Catrina Thompson, which upset the 53rd-ranked duo of Melissa Mang and Jennifer Zika by a 9-7 score at No. 3. It was the first time this season – and just the third time in her career – that Thompson played with anyone other than her sister. Notre Dame remained undefeated at No. 3 doubles.
Finishing off the sweep were Connelly and fellow senior Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy), who slid up to No. 2 and won 7-6 (7-5) against Jackie Carleton and Kristin Cargill. The Notre Dame seniors are a perfect 13-0 this spring and stand 24-5 overall, though they had a streak of eight consecutive matches allowing three games or fewer snapped. The Irish are now 13-0 at No. 2.
The showdown at No. 1 singles between All-Americans Bercek and Catrina Thompson saw both players serve well early. When Bercek was forced to retire due to a shoulder injury that had been bothering her, Thompson was ahead 40-0 in the ninth game of the opening set, with both players having held with little difficulty in their first four service games. The native of Serbia and Montenegro – who transferred from UCLA prior to the start of the season – took just her second defeat of 2005-06 after coming in with a 15-1 record and an eight-match winning streak. Bercek’s only other loss came in the title match of the season’s first grand slam, the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships.
Thompson – whose previous career-high win came against then-#3 Audra Cohen of Northwestern (she has since transferred to Miami) on April 14, 2005 – is now 19-7 on the season, 9-2 in dual play at No. 1. She has eight wins against ranked players this season and ended a five-match skid against higher-ranked opponents.
Duke got on the board when 122nd-ranked Mang finished a 6-1, 7-6 decision against Stastny at No. 4. Shortly thereafter, Connelly finished off a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Clelia Deltour at No. 6 to make the score 3-1. It was the Irish captain’s first career win against the Blue Devils, after dropping a third-set tiebreaker with the score tied 3-3 in last year’s affair. Connelly has won seven in a row and is 12-6 on the season, including 4-0 in dual action.
“Lauren just played unbelievable,” said Louderback. “She gave us exactly what we needed, and it was great to see her play so well.”
The Blue Devils would rally, getting a pair of three-set victories to even the score at 3-3. First Cargill snapped Potts’ 16-match winning streak in a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 decision at No. 5. Then 19th-ranked Carleton came back to beat Buck 6-7, 6-0, 6-1 at No. 2.
The win ended the longest losing streak against a single opponent in Irish women’s tennis history. Notre Dame had come close to beating Duke three times in its 13 prior meetings. In 1994, the squads were tied at 3-3 (under the old scoring format requiring five points to clinch victory) when the match was abandoned due to darkness. The Blue Devils then escaped the Eck Tennis Pavilion with 4-3 wins in both 2001 and ’05, rallying from a 3-0 deficit and taking a third-set tiebreaker in the final match remaining last spring.
Next up for Notre Dame is its first trip to College Station, Texas, since 1992, as the Irish will challenge #48 Texas A&M on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (CST).
#2 Notre Dame 4, #5 Duke 3SinglesNo. 1: #32 Catrina Thompson (ND) def. #1 Daniela Bercek (D) 4-4, retiredNo. 2: #19 Jackie Carleton (D) def. Brook Buck (ND) 6-7, 6-0, 6-1No. 3: * Kelcy Tefft (ND) def. #62 Tara Iyer (D) 7-5, 5-7, 6-3No. 4: #122 Melissa Mang (D) def. Kristina Stastny (ND) 6-1, 7-6No. 5: Kristin Cargill (D) def. Katie Potts (ND) 6-2, 4-6, 6-4No. 6: Lauren Connelly (ND) def. Clelia Deltour (D) 6-2, 7-5Order of Finish: 1, 4, 6, 5, 2, 3*DoublesNo. 1: #39 Buck/Tefft (ND) def. #11 Bercek/Jessi Robinson (D) 8-5No. 2: #47 Connelly/Stastny (ND) def. Cargill/Carleton (D) 7-6 (7-5)No. 3: * Katie Potts/Catrina Thompson (ND) def. #53 Mang/Jennifer Zika (D) 9-7Order of Finish: 1, 3*, 2* - indicates clinching victory