Jan. 29, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. & Evanston, Ill. – The University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team (2-0) is set for a challenging week of action that will feature contests against a pair of teams ranked in the national top 16. The Irish, up a spot to 21st in this week’s ITA national rankings, will travel to No. 16 Northwestern (2-2) on Thursday for a 4:00 p.m. match before returning home to play host to No. 5 North Carolina (2-0) on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The Wildcats and the Irish are the two highest-ranked teams in the Midwest Region, and Northwestern has beaten Notre Dame 4-3 each of the last two years. The Tar Heels are the first of five teams currently ranked in the national top 14 that will visit Notre Dame this spring.
LAST WEEK’S ACTION: The Irish notched a pair of 5-2 victories last week to open the season 2-0 for the second straight season. Notre Dame topped Western Michigan on Wednesday at home, winning the doubles point and then registering four straight-set wins in singles before dropping the remaining two matches (one decided in a match tiebreaker and the other in a third-set tiebreaker). The three Irish freshmen who made their dual-match debuts were impressive, with Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) winning 6-0, 6-2 at No. 3 singles, while Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) and Jennifer Smith (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg H.S.) won in straight sets at Nos. 4 and 6, respectively. On Sunday, Notre Dame avenged last season’s NCAA tournament defeat with a 5-2 win at Wisconsin. The Irish again won the doubles point and then won four singles matches, including three in which Notre Dame players rallied from losing the first set to win: Smith, sophomore Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.), and junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Bech, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.), who provided the clinching victory.
IRISH vs. WILDCATS: After being ranked 12th to head into the season, Northwestern started 2-2 without its No. 1 singles player, which dropped the team to No. 16 this week. The Wildcats have shutout victories over DePaul and Portland, but dropped a 5-2 decision to No. 4 Duke and then lost 4-3 to No. 21 Washington. Northwestern has four players and one doubles team mentioned in the national rankings. In singles, freshman Christelle Grier is 16th, Marine Piriou (who has been out with an injury) is 18th, Jessica Rush is 63rd and Jamie Piesel, another first-year player, is 76th. Piriou and Rush are 23rd in doubles. Northwestern returns seven letterwinners, including four of its top six players, from last year’s team that was 23-6 (10-0 Big Ten) and ranked as high as ninth before advancing to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament and finishing 14th.
The Wildcats are coached by Claire Pollard, who is in her fifth season at Northwestern and has a 93-23 (.802) record at the school. She has helped the ‘Cats to four Big Ten titles and was named Midwest Region and Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2001.
In the 27-year history of the Notre Dame women’s tennis program, Northwestern is the most common opponent, and it is the only team that has defeated the Irish more than 10 times. The Irish and Wildcats will meet this week for the 24th time, including in each of the last 16 seasons. Northwestern leads the series 15-8 and has captured 4-3 wins in each of the last two seasons. The ‘Cats won the first 11 meetings (1976-91) of the series, including having the distinction of being the first team to defeat the Irish — a 7-2 decision in Notre Dame’s fourth-ever varsity match in the fall of 1976. After the initial success, Notre Dame won eight of the next 10 matches. The Irish are 3-9 all-time in Evanston, while Jay Louderback holds an 8-6 record overall against Northwestern.
Last season, the Wildcats won a tight 4-3 decision in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The doubles point came down to the last match on-court, with Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla/Bishop McGuinness H.S.) and Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) winning at No. 3. In singles, the Irish won at Nos. 3 and 4 and Northwestern won at Nos. 1, 2, and 5, leaving the match tied, 3-3. In the last match on-court, Ruth Barnes beat Connelly 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 at No. 6.
IRISH vs. TAR HEELS: North Carolina has posted 7-0 victories over Richmond and UNC-Greensboro to open this season. The Tar Heels are ranked fifth in the nation, the highest listing in the history of the program, after returning five of their top six players from last year’s squad that finished 25-5 (7-1 ACC) and advanced to the quarterfinals in the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national champion Stanford. This year, the Heels have three singles players and two doubles teams listed in the national rankings. Kate Pinchbeck is 11th in singles, while Marlene Mejia is 38th and Aniela Mojzis is 61st. In doubles, Pinchbeck and Kendrick Bunn are 19th and the team of Mejia and Mojzis is 50th. The Tar Heels are coached by Jen Callen, who helped the team to the best season in school history in her first year at the helm.
Pinchbeck and Irish junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) have already met this spring, with the Tar Heel taking a 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 decision in the round of 16 of the Collegiate Tennis Kickoff Classic in Leslie’s second match back after returning from a 14-month layoff due to shoulder surgery.
The Irish and Tar Heels will meet for the eighth time on Saturday. The teams met three straight years from 1992-94 and renewed the series in 2000. Notre Dame has won four of the previous meetings, but North Carolina topped the Irish twice last season by 6-1 scores. The teams have split a pair of previous meetings at Notre Dame.
The teams squared off in the USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships last season, with the Heels winning 6-1. Lee Bairos and Kendall Cline won 9-7 at No. 3 doubles in the last match on-court to give UNC a 1-0 lead and the Tar Heels went on to win five of six singles matches. Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) posted the lone Irish win, at No. 5. In April, Notre Dame traveled to Chapel Hill, N.C. for the regularly-scheduled matchup. The Tar Heels again won the doubles point by taking the last match playing, this time with a 9-8 (7-4) win from Mejia and Julie Rotondi at No. 1. In singles, again Salas was the only Notre Dame player to win, this time at No. 4.
ITA RANKINGS: Notre Dame moved up a spot to 21st among the 75 teams ranked by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association this week, after being listed 22nd in the preseason. The Irish have been ranked in the preseason national top 25 in each of the last 13 years and have been in the top 25 in each of the last 118 sets of rankings released by the ITA, dating back to fall, 1995. Junior Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) is the only Irish player mentioned in the fall edition of the individual national rankings, coming in at 124th after being 86th in the preseason. In the midwest region singles rankings released at the end of the fall season, Salas was 12th in singles, while freshman Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) was 21st. In doubles, the team of senior Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash./Mercer Island H.S.) and freshman Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) was 15th.
RELOADING: Three Notre Dame freshman have stepped into the lineup and produced immediately this spring. Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy), Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.), and Jennifer Smith (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg H.S.) each have earned spots in the Irish singles and doubles lineup, combining for an 8-4 record. Stastny is 2-0 at No. 3 singles and 1-1 at No. 1 doubles. Connelly, meanwhile has split a pair of matches at No. 4 singles, but is unbeaten at No. 2 doubles and Smith is 2-0 at No. 6 singles and 1-1 at No. 3 doubles.
STANDIN’ ON TOP OF THE WORLD: In 30 dual-match singles outings in her first two years, junior Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) had played twice at No. 6, nine times at No. 5, 18 times at No. 4 and once at No. 3. This season, she has assumed the duties of the No. 1 position and has responded with a pair of straight-set victories. In her career, Salas is 29-3 (.906) in singles dual-match play.
BRING ‘EM ON: Northwestern and North Carolina mark the first two top-20 teams Notre Dame will face this season. As of now, eight opponents on the 2003 Irish schedule are ranked in the national top 20. Facing top-20 teams is nothing new for Notre Dame. Over the previous 10 seasons, the Irish have faced nine or more top-20 opponents in all but one campaign (six in 2001). The Irish have 34 wins in that span, having faced a total of 95 foes ranked in the top 20 at the time of the match.
IRISH TO FACE TOUGH SLATE: The road to the 2003 NCAA Championships will be challenging for Notre Dame. Of the 21 dual-match opponents the Irish will face this season, 15 of them earned berths to last year’s NCAA tournament and 18 are in the top 60 of this year’s ITA preseason rankings, including nine in the top 16. The Irish will face eight squads that advanced to the NCAA round of 16 a year ago. Highlighting Notre Dame’s schedule are 10 matches with Top 25 foes – at No. 12 Northwestern (Jan. 30), vs. No. 5 North Carolina (Feb. 1), vs. No. 4 Duke (Feb. 21), at No. 11 Tennessee (Feb. 23), at No. 14 Kentucky (Feb. 24), vs. No. 15 Wake Forest (March 1), vs. No. 13 Texas (March 2), at No. 6 Arizona State (March 14), vs. No. 16 William & Mary (March 23), and at No. 24 Miami (April 12). All but Miami reached at least the NCAA round of 16 a year ago, while Wake Forest advanced to the quarterfinals and Tennessee fell in the semifinals.
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 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.email@example.com, or Chris Masters at Masters.firstname.lastname@example.org.