May 18, 2006
Notre Dame took three of the seven annual Midwest Region awards announced recently by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), as Jay Louderback was tabbed Wilson/ITA Coach of the Year for the fourth time, Michelle Dasso was the ITA Assistant Coach of the Year, and senior captain Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) earned the ITA/Arthur Ashe Award for Leadership and Sportsmanship. All three are now candidates for the respective national awards, which will be announced May 22.
Louderback and Dasso have led Notre Dame to its best season in the 30-year varsity history of the program. The Irish currently stand 26-1 and tied for second in the ITA national rankings. That is the eighth time in the last nine weeks that Notre Dame has appeared at #2 in the rankings, after the Irish had never been higher than fifth prior to this season. ND, ranked 22nd in the preseason, started 16-0 (its best-ever start) and has now posted 26+ victories for just the second time ever (the 1985-86 squad finished 28-6 and did not qualify for the NCAAs in the program’s first year on the Division I level). The Irish have assured themselves of posting – at most – the second-fewest defeats in program history. The 1979 (fall only) team finished with a 9-1 mark in just the fourth year of varsity competition. Among the other season highlights have been a 4-0 record against top-10 teams, defeating Duke for the first time ever (after 12 defeats – that also matched the highest-ranked win, #5, in program history), snapping a seven-match losing streak against Northwestern, topping North Carolina for the first time since 2001, beating Tennessee for the first time since 1998, and earning an all-time high NCAA seeding of #2. Additionally, the fall saw Notre Dame junior twins Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) and Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) win the doubles title in the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships to deliver the first-ever Irish title in an ITA grand slam.
Louderback also earned the accolade in 1995, ’98, and 2000, but has never been the Wilson/ITA National Coach of the Year. The other finalists for that honor are Paul Kostin (VCU), Notre Dame graduate Brian Kalbas (North Carolina), Bryan Shelton (Georgia Tech), Mark Tichenor (Boise State), Joey Scrivano (Baylor), Lele Forood (Stanford), and Gualberto Escudero (Pepperdine).
Dasso joined Liz Barker (2000) as the only Irish assistants to be tops in the region, and she is looking for her second national ITA honor after winding up her playing career in 2001 by being tabbed the ITA National Senior Player of the Year. The other finalists for ITA National Assistant Coach of the Year are Celeste Frey (Massachusetts), Tari Ann Toro (North Carolina), David Balogh (Florida), Shea Simpson (Tulsa), Jeff Hammond (TCU), Amy Jensen (California), and Howard Joffe (USC).
Connelly is the fourth ND player to win the regional Arthur Ashe award – which goes to a player who has exhibited outstanding sportsmanship and leadership as well as scholastic extracurricular and tennis achievements. Pervious winners were Wendy Crabtree (1995), Jennifer Hall (1999), and Katie Cunha (2003).
Connelly has been a starter throughout her career at Notre Dame, compiling a 74-50 record in singles and a 109-38 mark in doubles, placing her in a tie with Dasso for the Irish career record for wins in partnered play. She has played in the bottom half of the singles lineup, posting 43 wins in dual matches, while notching a 31-22 record in dual action in doubles. This season, she has served as the captain of the record-setting Irish squad and has been nearly unbeatable in doubles, going 33-6 overall and 21-1 in dual-match action.
She has to her credit 27 career clinching victories in doubles play, more than any other ND player since the current doubles-point format was adopted in 2000-01. Connelly – who put together a 15-match winning streak in doubles earlier this spring and currently has won 10 straight in singles – has been ranked as high as 36th in the nation in doubles and was a BIG EAST all-tournament selection in doubles in 2003 and ’05.
A marketing major in the Mendoza College of Business with a minor in theology, Connelly owns a 3.69 cumulative grade-point average. She is a member of Notre Dame’s Academic Honors Program for Student-Athletes and has been tabbed an ITA Scholar-Athlete and BIG EAST Academic All-Star in each of the last three years. Connelly won the Knute Rockne Student-Athlete Award as the team’s top academic performer in both 2004-05 and ’05-’06 and was one of five recipients of the 2006 Byron V. Kanaley Award, the most prestigious honor presented to Irish student-athletes, honoring those who been most exemplary as both students and leaders.
The other candidates for the national honor are Megan Moulton-Levy (William & Mary), Lindsey Hess (UNC-Wilmington), Audrey Banada (Miami), Maja Kovacek (New Mexico), Gloriann Lopez (TCU), Alice Barnes (Stanford), and Dita Hauerlandova (San Diego State).
Louderback, Dasso, and Connelly will lead the Irish into an NCAA round-of-16 matchup with #20 Kentucky on Thursday at Noon (PT) at Stanford University’s Taube Tennis Center. Live scoring and video will be available on gostanford.com and will be linked on und.com.