Jan. 20, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. & MADISON, Wis. – The University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team, 22nd in the preseason national rankings, will open its dual-match season this week with a home match on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. vs. Western Michigan in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. On Saturday at Noon, the Irish will try to win their road opener for the 11th straight season, taking on Wisconsin, which eliminated Notre Dame from the NCAA tournament last season.
Notre Dame returns five letterwinners from last year’s team that finished 14-14 and 23rd in the nation. A year ago, the Irish posted a pair of upsets over top-15 teams, finished in the top 30 for the 10th straight season and earned their ninth NCAA tournament berth in 10 years, despite facing a grueling schedule including nine teams that would advance to the NCAA round of 16.
LAST WEEK’S ACTION: Three Irish players got a jump on the spring season by participating in the Collegiate Tennis Kickoff Classic last weekend in Las Vegas, Nev. Junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) returned to the court for the first time in 14 months, notching a pair of wins over ranked players. In her first match back after shoulder surgery, Leslie topped 60th-ranked Tina Hojnik of Georgia. She then fell in three sets to No. 11 Kate Pinchbeck of North Carolina, but Leslie picked up a win the following day over Florida’s 83rd-ranked Jennifer Magley in consolation play. Leslie, who was 30-12 as a freshman playing mostly No. 4 singles in 2000-01 and was expected to play near the top of the Irish lineup a year ago before suffering a shoulder injury in late fall, was 0-5 in her career against ranked players heading into the weekend.
Senior captain Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash./Mercer Island H.S.) and freshman Kelly Nelson (St. Petersburg, Fla./Shorecrest Preparatory School) played in both the singles and doubles draws, with Nelson moving to 13-7 this season in singles to lead the team in victories.
IRISH vs. BRONCOS: Western Michigan will open its 2003 dual-match season against the Irish. A year ago, the Broncos were ranked 69th in the preseason, but started 3-6 before recovering to finish 14-11. Western Michigan lost to NCAA qualifier Marshall in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament. Melanie Peters and Frederika Girsang form the No. 58 doubles team in the country after posting an 8-3 mark in fall play.
The Broncos are coached by Betsy Kuhle, who has compiled a 328-174 (.653) record, including 119-20 (.856) in MAC matches. Under Kuhle, Western Michigan has registered 14 straight winning seasons and has finished below .500 just once in 20 years. The Broncos have won four of the last six MAC titles, including three straight from 1999-2001.
The Irish and Broncos will meet for the 15th time, but just the second since 1996. Notre Dame has won each of the last eight meetings, dating back to 1988, and leads the series 10-4. This will be the seventh meeting of the teams in the Louderback era, with the Broncos coming to Notre Dame on each occasion. The Irish are 8-2 at home against Western Michigan. The last meeting was early in the 2001 season, when Notre Dame notched a 6-1 victory.
IRISH vs. BADGERS: Wisconsin, ranked 30th in the preseason poll, will open its season on Friday at home against Northern Illinois before taking on the Irish. In 2002, the Badgers climbed from a preseason ranking of 74th to a 17-9 record, second-place finishes in the Big Ten regular season and tournament, an appearance in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and a final ranking of 27th. Wisconsin defeated the Irish 4-2 in the first round of the NCAAs before losing to Northwestern for the third time in the second round. 2002 Big Ten and Midwest Region coach of the year Patti Henderson is in her 10th season at the helm of the Badgers program.
The Irish and Badgers will meet for the 13th straight season and 18th time overall. Notre Dame leads the series 11-6 and had won six straight before Wisconsin beat the Irish in the NCAA tournament a year ago. Under Louderback, Notre Dame is 11-4, including 6-0 in Madison. The last time the Irish lost at Wisconsin was in 1988. This year’s match will mark the 10th time in the last 11 meetings that both teams have carried a national ranking into the contest.
IRISH HEAD COACH: Jay Louderback is in his 14th year at Notre Dame with a 239-115 (.675) record and his 24th year as a collegiate coach with a 443-293 (.602) mark. He ranks fifth among active NCAA Division I coaches in career victories and is two wins shy of his 400th win in collegiate women’s tennis (45 of his victories came in three years coaching the Iowa State men’s team). Louderback’s Irish have finished in the national top 30 in each of the last 10 seasons, have won 10 conference titles and registered 20 or more victories five times in the last seven seasons. After taking over a program looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance, Louderback has helped Notre Dame to the NCAAs nine times in the last 10 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 seven 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 16 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 (four). The Arkansas City, Kan., native, and 1976 graduate of Wichita State arrived at Notre Dame prior to the 1990 season after coaching for seven years at his alma mater and three years (men and women) at Iowa State.
ITA RANKINGS: Notre Dame enters the 2003 season ranked 22nd among the 75 teams ranked by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association after finishing 2002 ranked 23rd. 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.
FALL RECAP: Notre Dame participated in four tournaments in the fall: the OSU/Prince Cup, the adidas Invitational, the Omni Hotels Midwest Championships, and the Eck Classic. Junior Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) paced the Irish in the spring with an 11-4 singles mark, including a pair of wins over ranked players. She won the Eck Classic blue flight title and reached the final in the OSU/Prince Cup and the round of 16 in the Omni Hotels Midwest Championships.
Freshman Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) was 8-5 in singles, including a pair of wins over top-70 players (#52 Jessica Rush of Northwestern and #69 Erica Fisk of Ohio State). She advanced to the final of the blue flight in the Eck Classic before falling to Salas. Another first-year player, Kelly Nelson (St. Petersburg, Fla./Shorecrest Preparatory School), led the Irish in singles wins in the fall with a 12-5 record, including the Eck Classic gold flight championship.
In doubles, freshman Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) led Notre Dame with a 10-3 record. She and senior Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash./Mercer Island H.S.) reached the round of 16 in the Midwest Championships and lost a close match in the final of the Eck Classic. Stastny teamed with Salas to win the B flight in the adidas Invitational. Nelson and Liz Donohue (Sioux Falls, S.D./O’Gorman H.S.) won the Prince Cup consolation title and reached the semifinals in the Eck Classic. Sophomore Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahom City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.), who also was 8-5 in singles, paired with freshman Jennifer Smith (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg H.S.) to go 9-4, leading all doubles teams in victories, while advancing to the semifinals in the Prince Cup and the Eck Classic.
START ME UP: Notre Dame has won six of its last seven season openers, eight of its last nine home openers and 10 straight road opening matches. The only blemish on the former two streaks was a 4-3 loss to No. 4 Duke to open the 2001 season, though the Irish rebounded to finish 25-5. Notre Dame has not lost its first match of the season on an opponent’s home court since a 5-4 loss to open the 1992 season. Under Jay Louderback, the Irish are 8-5 in season openers and 11-2 in both home openers and road openers.
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.
2002 REVIEW: In 2001-02, the Irish knocked off a pair of top-15 teams, advanced to the NCAA tournament for the ninth time in 10 years and finished in the top 25 for the seventh straight season. Despite playing a schedule featuring nine teams that advanced to the NCAA round of 16, Notre Dame finished 14-14 and ranked 23rd.
After being ranked 13th heading into the season, the Irish upset No. 7 USC 5-2 in the USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships. Following a midseason six-match winning streak, the Irish dropped a number of close decisions with top teams before beating 14th-ranked William & Mary 5-2. The Irish fell in the final of the BIG EAST tournament to Miami and then lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Wisconsin.
Lindsey Green and Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash./Mercer Island H.S.) earned a trip to the NCAA Doubles Championship and finished second in the midwest region rankings. After not being a regular part of the Irish lineup in 2000-01, Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) was 31-6 in singles, including 24-3 in dual matches, playing mostly No. 4. Her dual-match victories matched the school record.
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.firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chris Masters at Masters.email@example.com.