Feb. 23, 2003
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The 19th-ranked University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team (4-4) again had a strong showing against a top-15 opponent, but for the third time this season, could not convert that into a victory, dropping a 4-3 decision to #11 Tennessee Sunday afternoon at the UT Varsity Courts and Goodfriend Tennis Center. The teams split the six singles matches, but the Lady Vols (8-2) earned the doubles point, which turned out to be the difference. All four of Notre Dame’s losses this season have come against opponents ranked among the nation’s top 16 teams.
Tennessee won at Nos. 2 and 3 doubles to capture the initial point of the match. Crystal Cleveland and Ashley Robards registered an 8-6 win at No. 3 to improve to 14-2 this season and 5-1 in dual-match play.
The Irish struck back with an 8-6 win at No. 1 from senior captain Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash./Mercer Island H.S.) and freshman Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy). The Irish pair knocked off the 22nd-ranked team of Vilmarie Castellvi and Melissa Schaub, which was 14-2 on the season, including 7-1 at No. 1, heading into the match. The win was the second in three days and the third of the month for Cunha and Stastny over a top-25 doubles pair. The Irish team, which has won four of its last five contests, topped #13 Hillary Adams/Kelly McCain of Duke on Friday and beat #19 Kendrick Bunn/Kate Pinchbeck of North Carolina on Feb. 1. Cunha and Stastny are the first Notre Dame doubles team to down top-25 opponents in consecutive matches since Michelle Dasso and Becky Varnum beat #13 Barnikow/Kalvaria of Stanford (4-6, 6-4, 6-2) and #7 Ulhirova/Walker of Texas (6-0, 6-4) on the same day in the first two rounds of the Rolex National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships in February, 2001.
In the deciding doubles contest, Tammy Encina and Majen Immink, playing together for just the second time, registered an 8-5 win over junior Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) and freshman Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.).
The teams split the singles matches, with each of the top five being decided in straight sets. Because of court limitations, the top four matches were played concurrently, while the bottom two tilts did not begin until courts opened up. Castellvi, a senior All-American who reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Singles Championships last year and was ranked No. 1 in the preseason national singles rankings, finished her match first with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Salas at No. 1. The Irish junior was playing against a top-five singles player for the second time in three days. Castellvi currently stands fourth, while second-ranked Kelly McCain of Duke downed Salas on Friday. Castellvi improved to 24-4 this season, including 13-1 this spring.
Notre Dame junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) continued her hot play, putting the Irish on the board with a 6-1, 6-3 triumph over Encina at No. 2. Leslie, who returned last month after missing 14 months with a shoulder injury, has won four straight to improve to 7-5, which includes three wins over ranked players.
Schaub put the Lady Vols within a point of victory with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Cunha at No. 3. Schaub has won six matches in a row and is 8-1 at No. 3 singles this spring.
Stastny then pulled the Irish to within 3-2 by completing a 6-4, 6-3 win at No. 4 against another first-year player, Sabita Maharaj. The Irish freshman had lost five of her last six contests prior to the win.
In the second wave of matches, Cleveland finished first to clinch the win for Tennessee, delivering a 6-2, 6-3 triumph over Lauren Connelly at No. 5. The win was the sixth in a row for Cleveland, who improved to 7-2 in dual matches.
After the outcome was determined, Irish sophomore Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) came through with a 6-2, 3-6, 1-0 (12-10) win over Ashley Robards at No. 6. Connelly has won three of her last four matches.
The Lady Vols have won four straight against the Irish, and Notre Dame remains winless in seven trips to Knoxville. Both schools have been ranked in the national top 20 heading into each of the last five contests betwen the teams.
The Irish will take on a top-30 team for the sixth time in nine matches this year when they travel to #25 Kentucky on Monday for a 1 p.m. match. Notre Dame has won in each of its last two trips to Lexington.
The Irish will return home next weekend for a pair of big matches. On Saturday, March 1 at 11 a.m. (EST), Notre Dame will play host to Wake Forest, which advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals a year ago. The following day, the Irish will welcome #14 Texas at Noon (EST) in the second-annual Ace For the Cure, which is a benefit match to increase the awareness of the deadly threat of colon cancer.
#11 Tennessee 4, #19 Notre Dame 3
No. 1: #4 Vilmarie Castellvi (T) d. #124 Alicia Salas (ND) 6-1, 6-1
No. 2: Caylan Leslie (ND) d. Tammy Encina (T) 6-1, 6-3
No. 3: Melissa Schaub (T) d. Katie Cunha (ND) 7-5, 6-1
No. 4: Kristina Stastny (ND) d. Sabita Maharaj (T) 6-4, 6-3
No. 5: Crystal Cleveland (T) d. Lauren Connelly (ND) 6-2, 6-3
No. 6: Sarah Jane Connelly (ND) d. Ashley Robards (T) 6-2, 3-6, 1-0 (12-10)
No. 1: Cunha/Stastny (ND) d. #22 Castellvi/Schaub (T) 8-6
No. 2: Encina/Majen Immink (T) d. L. Connelly/Salas (ND) 8-5
No. 3: Cleveland/Robards (T) d. S.J. Connelly/Jennifer Smith (ND) 8-6