April 7, 2002
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – In a storybook ending to a noble event, Notre Dame junior Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash.) completed a 6-3, 6-4 victory at No. 5 singles to clinch a 4-3 Irish win over 27th-ranked Miami Sunday afternoon in Eck Tennis Pavilion in the first-ever “Ace for the Cure” colon cancer benefit match. Cunha, who conceived and inspired the event, also delivered the decisive doubles point, along with partner Lindsey Green (El Cajon, Calif.).
Notre Dame, which won the doubles point and split the six singles matches, snapped a four-match losing skid and improved to 12-11 on the season, while the Hurricanes finished their regular season at 11-6. Miami and the 23rd-ranked Irish could meet again in two weeks at the BIG EAST Championships in Miami, to be held from April 19-21. The teams have met in the tournament final in each of the six years since the Irish joined the league, with Notre Dame winning in 1996, ’97, ’99, and 2001.
The Irish have two tough regular season matchups left before the BIG EAST tournament. Notre Dame will hit the road next weekend to take on No. 14 William & Mary on Saturday, April 13 at 2:30 p.m. and then travel to Texas for a match against the 12th-ranked Longhorns on Monday, April 15 at 5:30 p.m. in their final regular-season match of 2002.
The first-ever “Ace For The Cure” was a special match-up designed to increase awareness among the Michiana community as to the deadly threat of colon cancer. The match served as a fund raiser with all proceeds going to benefit ongoing colon cancer research.
“Katie put in so much effort and it turned out to be such a great event,” Irish head coach Jay Louderback said of the benefit match. “We got a lot of people out to the match and raised a lot of money. All the credit really goes to Katie.”
On Sunday, Notre Dame swept the doubles matches for the fifth time this season to take a 1-0 lead. Seniors Becky Varnum (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Nina Vaughan (Corona del Mar, Calif.), playing in their final home match, got the Irish off to a good start with an 8-2 win at No. 2. Cunha and Green followed with an 8-3 triumph at No. 1 to claim the doubles point. Sophomore Alicia Salas (Engelwood, Colo.) and freshman Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla.) completed the sweep with an 8-4 victory at No. 3.
“We really played well in doubles,” said Louderback. “All three doubles teams have been playing well of late, but not all at the same time until today. I thought they looked really good and I think a lot of it had to do with the crowd. We had such a good crowd today and that helped our play a lot.”
Since Louderback juggled his doubles lineup last weekend, all three squads have responded well. Cunha and Green are 3-2 with one loss coming in a tiebreaker and the other at the hands of the nation’s No. 1 doubles team. Varnum and Vaughan have an identical record, also losing one close match (9-7 against Duke) and once to a highly ranked team (Northwestern’s #22 pair). The pair of seniors also delivered an upset of the 26th-ranked doubles team in the nation, Kendall Cline and Aniela Mojzis of North Carolina. Connelly and Salas are 12-4 as a team and hold an impressive 9-1 mark in the Eck Tennis Pavilion.
“Ace for the Cure,” which was in large part responsible for the large and boisterous fan turnout, continued between the doubles and singles matches when Cunha and her mother Christine, who was diagnosed with colon cancer last year, thanked the crowd for their attendance and support in spreading information about the deadly threat of the illness. After a number of giveaways, including signed jersey tops and balls from a number of Irish athletic teams, as well as other prizes, the singles portion of the match got underway.
The Irish gained three singles victories to improve to 4-0 all-time against Miami in regular-season matchups. Vaughan registered her second win of the day with a 6-0, 6-2 victory at No. 2 over 109th-ranked Marcy Hora, giving Notre Dame a 2-0 lead. Salas then put the Irish within a point of victory with a 6-4, 6-0 win at No. 4 to improve to 21-2 this spring. She is 28-5 overall this season and has won 24 of her last 26 contests. The Hurricanes mounted a comeback, beginning with 66th-ranked Mari Toro registering a 6-4, 6-3 win at No. 1. Then Staci Stevens finished a 6-4, 6-3 victory at No. 2, cutting the Irish lead to 3-2. Cunha then clinched the win for Notre Dame with her win before Ewelina Skaza notched a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 win at No. 6.
Sunday also marked the final home match for five Irish seniors: Green, Varnum, Vaughan, Berica Day (San Antonio, Texas) and Michelle Hamilton (Diamond Bar, Calif.). Over their careers, Notre Dame has had amazing success, compiling an 83-30 (.735) record, including a 43-7 (.860) mark at home. The group will try to win their third BIG EAST title later this month in Miami and hope to earn the program’s seventh consecutive bid to the NCAA tournament. The Irish have advanced to the round of 16 in each of the last two seasons. Green, Varnum and Vaughan have been particularly dominant at home, each winning more than two-thirds of both their home singles and doubles matches over their careers. Green was 43-18 (.705) in singles and 46-15 (.754) in doubles, while Varnum was 40-19 (.678) in singles and 38-14 (.731) with a partner and Vaughan was 36-16 (.692) in singles and had a doubles mark of 31-13 (.705).
#23 Notre Dame 4, #27 Miami 3
No. 1: #66 Mari Toro (M) d. #86 Becky Varnum (ND) 6-4, 6-3
No. 2: Staci Stevens (M) d. Lindsey Green (ND) 6-4, 6-3
No. 3: #121 Nina Vaughan (ND) d. #109 Marcy Hora (M) 6-0, 6-2
No. 4: Alicia Salas (ND) d. Sihem Bennacer (M) 6-4, 6-0
No. 5: Katie Cunha (ND) d. Sara Robbins (ND) 6-3, 6-4
No. 6: Ewelina Skaza (M) d. Sarah Jane Connelly (ND) 2-6, 6-4, 6-3
No. 1: Cunha/Green (ND) d. Hora/Toro (M) 8-3
No. 2: Varnum/Vaughan (ND) d. Igna deVilliers/Skaza (M) 8-2
No. 3: Connelly/Salas (ND) d. Robbins/Stevens (M) 8-4