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No. 21 Irish Look To Snap Three-Match Skid, Welcoming Iowa On Thursday

March 17, 2004

The 21st-ranked University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team (7-4) aims to snap a three-match losing streak on Thursday, playing host to #47 Iowa for a 4 p.m. (EST) match in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The Irish are still looking for their first victory of March after going 6-0 in February in finishing a seven-match winning streak.The match will be the fifth of eight in a row for Notre Dame against teams currently ranked among the nation’s top 50.

LAST TIME ON THE COURTS: Notre Dame took a spring break trip to Wikaloa, Hawaii last week and saw its first outdoor action of the spring. The Irish dropped both of their matches, falling by identical 6-1 scores to #6 Duke and #36 Tennessee. Both contests featured senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) providing the lone point for the Irish by upsetting a top-25 player at No. 1 singles.

On Wednesday against the Blue Devils, she rallied from losing the first set for a 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 win against #5 Amanda Johnson at No. 1. Saturday saw Salas defeat #24 Tammy Encina in a match tiebreaker 6-4, 4-6, 1-0 (10-7). The Irish senior, ranked 13th nationally, picked up her fifth straight win to improve to 21-8 this season and 14-5 against ranked foes (6-0 in the spring).

Notre Dame also had one doubles victory in each match. Against Duke, Freshman twins Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) and Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.), ranked 37th, delivered an 8-6 win over Julia Smith and Tory Zawacki at No. 1. Junior Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) and sophomore Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) beat Majen Immink and Breanna Kray of Tennessee in a match tiebreaker 9-8 (7-4) at No. 3. The Lady Vols won a tiebreaker at No. 1 to take a 1-0 lead in the match.

Other than Salas, no Irish player won a set in singles against Duke, while Catrina Thompson took the first set at No. 3 singles against Tennessee before losing in a match tiebreaker.

IRISH vs. HAWKEYES: Iowa has moved up 17 spots from its preseason ranking to stand 47th with an 8-2 record. The Hawkeyes won 4-3 at Minnesota on Feb. 28 in their Big Ten opener and are currently in a four-way tie for the top spot in the conference. Following Thursday’s match, all of the remaining nine matches this spring for Iowa will be against Big Ten teams. Iowa opened the season with four straight wins before losing to #13 Clemson (6-1) and #6 Vanderbilt (7-0) on back-to-back days in Nashville, Tenn. Since then, the Hawkeyes have won four in a row. Iowa is 3-0 in 4-3 matches, having defeated Georgia Tech, Missouri, and the Golden Gophers, with the last two matches coming on the road. Four of the seven players on the Hawkeyes’ roster are freshmen, including each of their top three singles players.

The Hawkeyes have been strong at the top of the lineup this season. Rookie Meg Racette is 16-4, including 7-3 at No. 1 singles, while another freshman, Hillary Mintz, is 20-5 overall and 8-2 at No. 2. Those two have combined for a 12-5 mark in doubles, including 7-3 at No. 1.

Iowa returned three starters from last year’s team that was 7-13 and eighth in the Big Ten (5-6, tournament first round). Paul Wardlaw is in his seventh season leading the program, sporting a 77-70 (.524) record.

Notre Dame and Iowa will meet for the sixth consecutive season and the 10th time overall. The Irish have won the last four and all eight previous regular-season meetings, but the Hawkeyes upset Notre Dame 5-4 in the second round of the 1999 NCAA Championship at the Courtney Tennis Center. The teams first met in 1985, with the Irish taking an 8-1 decision. All eight matchups (including this year) between the teams since 1990 have been at Notre Dame, with the Irish holding a 6-1 edge. The Irish, who will enter the contest ranked ahead of Iowa for the eighth straight time, had won each of the regular-season meetings by at least three points until a 4-3 decision in 2003.

In the closest-ever regular-season matchup between the two teams, Notre Dame jumped out to a 3-0 lead and went up 4-1 to clinch a victory in last year’s match before Iowa won the final two matches on-court. The Irish won the doubles point and got straight-set victories at Nos. 1, 4, and 5. Steffi Hoch upset #65 Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) 7-5, 6-2 at No. 2, while the Hawkeyes also got a three-set victory at No. 3 and a match-tiebreaker win at No. 6.

ITA RANKINGS: After dropping a pair of matches on its spring break trip last week, Notre Dame dropped three spots to 21st in this week’s Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) national rankings, the last to be determined by voting of the ITA National Ranking Committee, consisting of the eight region chairs. Next week’s rankings, and each ensuing set, will be determined by the ITA’s point-per-match computer formula.

The Irish have two singles players and one doubles team in the most recent set of individual national rankings, the second of the season based on the ITA’s computer point-per-match formula, released March 9. Senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) rose three spots to a career-high 13th after a pair of victories over top-30 players. She has won five in a row and stands 21-8 on the season, including 9-2 in dual matches at No. 1 and a 14-5 record against ranked opponents (6-0 this spring). The ranking is the highest for an Irish player in singles since current assistant coach Michelle Dasso finished her career in 2001 at fifth. Other than Salas and Dasso, only two other Irish players have been ranked among the top 13 in the nation since the program moved to Division I in 1985-86 — joining Melissa Harris (’92) and Wendy Crabtree (’95). Freshman Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.), who started the spring 7-1 at No. 2, earned her first career singles ranking, listed 84th. She and her twin sisters Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) moved up five spots to 37th in the doubles rankings. They are 16-9 this season, including 7-4 at No. 1.

Only three seniors — California’s Raquel Kops-Jones (#1), Georgia’s Agata Cioroch (#4), and Duke’s Amanda Johnson (#5) — are higher-ranked than Salas, who is the seventh-highest-ranked American player, behind Kops-Jones (Fresno, Calif.), #2 Alexis Gordon of Florida (Windsor, Conn.), Johnson (Bettendorf, Iowa), #9 Megan Bradley (Columbia, Mo.), #10 Shadisha Robinson of Georgia (South Ozone Park, N.Y.), and #12 Erin Burdette of Stanford (Jackson, Ga.).

The Thompsons are one of just two all-freshman teams to be in the national rankings. Rookies Kady Pooler and Rebecca Rankin of Arizona State are 28th. Catrina Thompson is ninth among American freshmen in the singles rankings, while seven foreign rookies are also ahead of her. She is one of just five freshmen in Division I to hold both singles and doubles rankings. The others are Shadisha Robinson of Georgia (10th in singles, 4th in doubles), Sasha Podkolzina of California (17th, 18th), Darya Ivanova of Tulane (65th, 39th), and Maria Brito of Clemson (91st, 7th).

THREE-MATCH SKID: On the heels of a seven-match winning streak, Notre Dame has lost three in a row, dropping decisions to #17 Illinois (5-2), #6 Duke (6-1), and #36 Tennessee (6-1). It was the first time Notre Dame had lost even back-to-back matches in more than a year, since the Irish dropped consecutive matches against #1 Duke, #11 Tennessee, and #25 Kentucky from March 21-24, 2003.

TOUGH STRETCH: The Irish are in the midst of eight consecutive matches against teams ranked in the top 30 of the ITA national rankings. Notre Dame already posted victories over #20 BYU (6-1, Feb. 20) and #26 Indiana (5-2, Feb. 29) before losing to #17 Illinois (5-2, March 4), #6 Duke (6-1, March 10 in Wikaloa, Hawaii), and #36 Tennessee (6-1, March 13 in Wikaloa, Hawaii). Coming up are a home match against #47 Iowa on Thursday before a road trip next weekend to #38 Wake Forest and #7 North Carolina.

MENACING MARCH AFTER FABULOUS FEBRUARY: Notre Dame is winless in three matches in March after finishing the month of February with a perfect 6-0 record. The Irish have lost to #17 Illinois (5-2, March 4), #6 Duke (6-1, March 10), and #36 Tennessee (6-1, March 13) this month. In February, Notre Dame defeated #64 Wisconsin (7-0, Feb. 1), #14 VCU (4-3, Feb. 13), Boston College (6-1, Feb. 14), #69 Virginia Tech (5-2, Feb. 15), #20 BYU (6-1, Feb. 20), and #26 Indiana (5-2, Feb. 29). It marked the first undefeated February since Notre Dame began playing a full schedule of action in the month. The Irish did not play a match in February in the first nine years of varsity women’s tennis. Notre Dame then went 3-0 in February of 1986 and hasn’t duplicated the feat since then.

STREAKS: A few active streaks heading into the Iowa match: * Notre Dame has lost three dual matches in a row after a seven-match winning streak.

* The Irish have won 15 in a row against teams not ranked among the nation’s top 40 (dating back to a 5-2 loss at #51 Purdue on 3/21/02).

* Notre Dame has won 19 in a row at home against teams not ranked among the nation’s top 20 (dating back to a 5-2 loss to #40 Indiana on 2/3/02).

* The Irish have lost the doubles point in three straight matches after winning it seven times in a row prior to that.

* Notre Dame is 8-0 against Iowa in regular-season matches

* The Irish have won four in a row against the Hawkeyes overall (dating back to a 5-4 loss at home in the 1999 NCAA tournament).

* Senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) has won five matches in a row, with all of them coming against top-45 players.

* Senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) has won eight singles matches in a row (6-0 this season), dating back to last year.

* Senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) has won six consecutive contests against ranked opponents.

* Junior Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) has won five consecutive tiebreakers.

BIG WIN: Senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) defeated #5 Amanda Johnson of Duke 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 last Wednesday. Johnson was the highest-ranked player to fall victim to an Irish competitor since current Notre Dame assistant coach Michelle Dasso, ranked third at the time, upset #2 Ansley Cargill of Duke 6-2, 6-3 at No. 1 in a 4-3 Blue Devils victory on Jan. 21, 2001. It was the second time in as many seasons that Johnson suffered a defeat against the Irish. In 2003, Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) upset the then-15th-ranked Blue Devil 6-2, 7-5 at No. 2 in a 5-2 Duke victory in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. It was the highest-ranked win of Salas’ career and she now has six wins over top-30 players this season.

KNOCKING THEM OFF: Senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) has posted victories over top-50 players in each of her last five matches. The last time an Irish player beat ranked players in five straight matches was Feb. 19-March 2, 2000, when current Irish assistant coach Michelle Dasso (’01) beat #38 Jewel Peterson of USC, #83 Marlene Mejia of North Carolina, #7 Adria Engel of Wake Forest, #50 Katherine Nasser of Northwestern, and #36 Kristy Dascoli of Ohio State. Including a win over #37 Elizabeth Exon of Michigan in the spring opener, Salas has won each of her last six contests vs. ranked opponents, which is the longest since Dasso won seven straight against ranked foes during that same time, from Feb. 17-March 11, 2000. Salas topped #14 Jennifer McGaffigan of Illinois and #5 Amanda Johnson of Duke in back-to-back matches, marking the first time a Notre Dame player upended top-15 players in consecutive contests since Dasso beat #6 Janet Bergman of Wake Forest and #11 Mejia on back-to-back days, Feb. 10-11, 2001. Dasso dropped just two games in those matches, beating Bergman 6-1, 6-0 and Mejia 6-0, 6-1.

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 eight matches against Big Ten teams, posting a 6-1 mark, with the only loss coming at #16 Northwestern. In ’04, the Irish are 3-2 thus far, beating Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Indiana and losing to Michigan and Illinois.

Notre Dame has had a long history of playing Big Ten teams, posting an all-time 107-62 (.637) mark, averaging over six matches per season against Big Ten teams in the 28-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-24, Purdue-22, Michigan-22, Wisconsin-19, Indiana-18).

SALAS ESTABLISHING HERSELF AS ONE OF NATION’S TOP PLAYERS: Senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.), currently ranked a career-high 13th, has established herself as one of the elite players in college tennis this season. She stands 21-8 in singles, including 9-2 at No. 1, having already defeated 14 ranked opponents. Against ranked foes, she is 14-5 this season, including a 6-0 mark in the spring. Each of her last five matches have been wins against top-45 players. She has victories over #5 Amanda Johnson of Duke, #14 Jennifer McGaffigan of Illinois, #15 Luana Magnani of USC, #24 Tammy Encina of Tennessee, #29 Dianne Hollands of Arizona, #30 Dora Vastag of Indiana, #33 Alix Lacelarie of Clemson, #37 Elizabeth Exon of Michigan, #39 Megan Muth of William & Mary, #42 Jessica Rush of Northwestern, #43 Barbora Zahnova of BYU, #69 Andrea Yung of Northwestern, #79 Shana McElroy of Wisconsin, and #85 Ashley Schellhas of Vanderbilt. In addition, Salas posted wins over Ohio State’s Lindsay Williams (now 57th) and Wisconsin’s Katie McGaffigan (now 63rd), who were both unranked at the time, but are now in the rankings. She also beat Exon (now 67th) when she was unranked in the fall.

Last fall, she fought through qualifying to reach the main draw of the ITA All-American Championships in October and then gained entrance to the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships the following month due to her runner-up result in the ITA Midwest Championships. She is just the fourth Notre Dame player ever to take part in the first two legs of the collegiate grand slam, joining Melissa Harris (’92), Wendy Crabtree (’96), Jennifer Hall (’99), and current Irish assistant Michelle Dasso (’01). When she was listed 14th in the fall edition of the ITA national singles rankings, Salas joined those same four as the only Notre Dame players ever listed among the top 15 players in college tennis.

Salas has a 92-33 career singles record, including 21 wins over ranked opponents. Her victory total ranks tied for 13th in the Notre Dame record book.

CLINCHING CATRINA: Freshman Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) has provided the clinching victory in four of Notre Dame’s seven wins this spring. She delivered each of the first three Irish triumphs — against Ohio State, Wisconsin, and a 4-3 upset of #14 VCU — prior to clinching the 5-2 win over #26 Indiana on Sunday.

TIEBREAKER TITAN: Junior Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) is 5-0 in tiebreakers this season and has won six in a row, dating back to last year. Three of her five tiebreakers this season have been decided by 9-7 scores. Connelly lost her only match tiebreaker of 2003-04, against Ashley James of Virginia Tech, after going 5-0 in them as a sophomore.

DON’T LOOK BACK: Irish players have compiled a 98-14 (.875) record this season when winning the first set. Among the top performers are senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.), who is 19-1, and senior Emily Neighbours (Indianapolis, Ind./Park Tudor School), who is 8-0.

PENCIL IT IN: Notre Dame has used the same six singles players and the same doubles lineup in each of its 11 dual matches this spring. In singles, it has been senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) at No. 1, followed by freshman twins Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) and Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.), and then sophomore Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) at No. 4. Junior Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) and sophomore Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) have rounded out the singles lineup, though they switched positions for the last two matches. In doubles, the Thompsons have played No. 1, while Salas and Lauren Connelly are No. 2, and Stastny and Sarah Jane Connelly have played No. 3.

STREAK BUSTERS: Notre Dame’s 4-3 victory at #14 Virginia Commonwealth on Feb. 13 snapped a pair of Rams’ streaks. Prior to the match, VCU had not lost at home in nearly five years, boasting a 40-match winning streak that stretched back to a 5-2 defeat against Virginia Tech on March 28, 1999. In addition, the Rams had won 38 consecutive regular-season contests, dating back to a 4-3 loss to William & Mary exactly two years earlier, on Feb. 13, 2002.

ANOTHER TOP-15 UPSET: Notre Dame’s 4-3 victory at #14 Virginia Commonwealth on Feb. 13 continued an impressive streak of knocking off top-15 foes. The Irish now have at least one victory over a top-15 team in each of the last 11 seasons, dating back to 1994. In ’93, Notre Dame topped #19 Clemson and #19 Alabama, but was 0-5 against teams in the top 15. During the streak, the Irish have notched 20 victories over top-15 opponents, including five in 1996, highlighted by a 5-4 upset of #5 Texas, which remains the highest-ranked team ever to be defeated by Notre Dame. VCU was the highest-ranked team to fall victim to the Irish on its own home courts since Notre Dame won at #14 William & Mary 5-2 on April 13, 2002.

TWO STARTERS FROM LAST YEAR OUT FOR THE SEASON: A pair of starters from last year’s Irish team are expected to miss all of this spring’s dual-match season with shoulder injuries. Senior co-captain Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.), who played No. 1 singles a year ago and was 26th in the preseason national rankings, had to retire in her second match of the season, at last September’s adidas Invitational, and she will not see further action in 2003-04. Leslie, who also missed the spring of 2002 with a shoulder injury, could apply for a fifth year of eligibility. Sophomore Jennifer Smith (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg H.S.), who played No. 6 singles and No. 3 doubles as a freshman, underwent shoulder surgery last fall and will miss the entire 2003-04 campaign.

IRISH FACE TOUGH SLATE: The road to the 2004 NCAA Championship is a challenging one for Notre Dame. Of the 20 dual-match opponents the Irish will face this season, 19 of them currently carry national rankings, including 16 in the top 50 and 10 in the top 30. A dozen of them earned berths in last year’s NCAA tournament. Three Irish opponents are currently in the top 10 — #5 Duke (L, 1-6), #7 North Carolina (A, 3/28), and #6 Northwestern (H, 4/15) — while six more are in the top 25: #11 Texas (A, 4/12), #16 Miami (H, 4/4), #19 Michigan (L, 3-4), #20 Illinois (L, 2-5), #23 Indiana (W, 5-2), #25 BYU (W, 5-2).

SISTER ACT: For the second straight season, Notre Dame has an unprecedented two pairs of sisters on its roster in 2003-04. In 2002-03, Liz Donohue (Sioux Falls, S.D./O’Gorman H.S.) and Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) joined the Notre Dame squad as freshmen, combining with sisters Maggie Donohue and Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) to mark the first time in school history that a team featured two sets of sisters at the same time. Though Maggie Donohue graduated in ’03, the Connellys are joined this season by freshman twins Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) and Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) to give Notre Dame two sets of sisters once again. A total of six sets of sisters have earned monograms in women’s tennis, by far the most of any of the 13 Irish women’s sports.

IRISH HEAD COACH: Jay Louderback is in his 15th season at Notre Dame with a 262-128 (.672) record and his 25th year as a collegiate coach with a 466-306 (.606) mark. He ranks fifth among active NCAA Division I coaches in career victories. Louderback’s Irish have finished in the national top 30 in each of the last 11 seasons, have won 11 conference titles and registered 20 or more victories five times in the last eight campaigns. Since the preseason of the 1995 season, Louderback’s teams have been ranked in the national top 25 in 132 of 137 sets of rankings. After taking over a program looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance, Louderback has helped Notre Dame to the NCAAs 10 times in the last 11 years, including five appearances in the round of 16 and a 1996 quarterfinal finish. 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 eight 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 18 invitations to the NCAA singles championship and 10 to the NCAA doubles tournament. His players have dominated the University awards during Louderback’s tenure, leading all sports in both Byron V. Kanaley awards (five) and Francis Patrick O’Connor awards (five). His family was honored with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Tennis Family of the Year Award for 2002. The Arkansas City, Kan., native, and 1976 graduate of Wichita State arrived at Notre Dame prior to the 1989-90 season after coaching for seven years at his alma mater and three years (men and women) at Iowa State.

FORMER NATIONAL No. 1 BROOK BUCK HEADED FOR NOTRE DAME: Head coach Jay Louderback announced recently that Brook Buck (Yukon, Okla./Oklahoma Christian School) has signed a national letter of intent to enroll at Notre Dame and join his team in the fall of 2004. Buck, a three-time Oklahoma state singles champion, was ranked No. 1 in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) girls’ 16-and-under national rankings in January of this year before moving up to the 18-and-under age group. She had an outstanding year of 16s junior action in 2002. In addition to being the singles runner-up at the National Hardcourt Championships, she won three national doubles titles, claiming crowns in the Winter National Championships, the Spring Supernational Championships, and the Supernational Hardcourt Championships. A senior at Oklahoma Christian School, Buck won state No. 1 singles titles in class 3A in 2001, ’02, and ’03, and will go for another next spring. Despite only playing in the 18-and-under division since April of this year, Buck has earned a national ranking of 28th, which places her currently as the 10th-highest-ranked player who will enroll in college next 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 Eileen Carroll at, who also can provide any information about the Irish tennis program.