Feb. 16, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Notre Dame women’s tennis team moved atop the BIG EAST Conference standings by completing a dominant pair of performances with a 6-1 win over Boston College Sunday in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The Irish (4-2, 2-0) won the doubles point and five of six singles matches in defeating the Eagles (4-1, 2-1), who finished fourth in last year’s conference tournament. Notre Dame downed Virginia Tech, which was third in the BIG EAST in ’02, by the same score on Friday, but the Irish will not take on defending conference champion Miami, ranked 14th this season, until April 12. Notre Dame will return to action on Friday, when it plays host to No. 1 Duke at 6 p.m. (EST) in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The Blue Devils will be playing as the nation’s top team for the first time in the program’s history.
After losing the initial point to the Hokies on Friday, the Irish got off to a better start against the Eagles, who posted a 5-2 victory against Virginia Tech on Saturday in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. Junior Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) and freshman Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) finished first with an 8-2 victory at No. 2. Sophomore Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) and freshman Jennifer Smith (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg H.S.) delivered the first point for the Irish with an 8-0 victory at No. 3. The shutout was the first for the pair in 19 matches this season and the second in Connelly’s career. Boston College avoided the sweep with an 8-4 win at No. 1 by Emily Hellberg and Nida Waseem.
In singles, the top three matches were off the court quickly, while the bottom three were close affairs. Salas gave the Irish a 2-0 lead with a 6-2, 6-2 win at No. 1 over freshman Szilvia Szegedi, who suffered her first collegiate loss in five matches this season. Salas improved to 15-6. Shortly thereafter, junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) evened her singles mark at 5-5 with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Waseem at No. 2. Both Salas and Leslie finished their matches before a single set was complete at either No. 4 or No. 6 singles.
After being blanked by the Irish four straight times prior to last year, the Eagles avoided a shutout for the second straight season. Allison Ashley, who played No. 1 singles a year ago, came through with a 6-3, 6-2 triumph over freshman Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) at No. 3 for what would prove to be the Eagles’ lone point. Lauren Connelly then clinched the win for the Irish with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Amy Molden at No. 5. Her three-set match finished before two long straight-setters were decided.
After the outcome of the match was determined, senior captain Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash./Mercer Island H.S.) completed a 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 win over Morgan Landes at No. 4. Cunha faced a 4-3 deficit in the first-set tiebreaker, but ran off four straight points to take a one-set lead. After not playing singles in the first four dual matches of the spring, Cunha was 2-0 this weekend.
In the final match on-court, Smith delivered a hard-fought 7-6 (11-9), 6-2 win over local favorite Hellberg at No. 6. Both players had numerous set points in the opening frame, including four by Hellberg in the tiebreaker. Eventually Smith, trailing 9-8, won three straight points to finish off the first set. In the second, the Irish freshman again faced strong opposition, and she needed six deuces and four match points in the final game to finally finish the job. Hellberg, a native of Spring Lake, Mich. who entered with a 10-3 mark, had a five-match winning streak snapped, losing for the first time since early October.
The Irish have won all eight meetings — each since 1991 — with the Eagles, making Boston College one of just three teams, along with Drake (0-9) and Kansas State (0-8), to have faced Notre Dame eight or more times without a victory.
Notre Dame, which is playing more than two regular-season matches vs. BIG EAST teams for just the second time since joining the conference in 1996, is a perfect 12-0 against league teams in regular-season play since gaining membership. The Irish have won four BIG EAST titles (’96, ’97, ’99, ’01), but were defeated in the final on three occasions by Miami, which is the only conference team to have ever defeated Notre Dame. The Irish hold a 31-3 all-time mark against BIG EAST teams.
Though the conference does not require each team to play a traditional BIG EAST schedule in order to qualify for one of the six spots in the league tournament, the results of regular-season matches, as well as national rankings, are used to determine who gains entry into the BIG EAST Championships, as well as the seeding. The Irish, whose only remaining conference match is at Miami in the regular-season finale, are the only team in the league to hold a 2-0 mark against conference foes. Rutgers and Georgetown are 1-0, while Miami, St. John’s, Villanova, and Providence have not played any BIG EAST teams yet this spring.
The Irish have a trio of stiff tests ahead of them next weekend. On Friday, Notre Dame will play host to national No. 1 Duke, who will be in action for the first time ever holding the top ranking after beating three top-10 teams to claim the title in last weekend’s USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships. After facing the Blue Devils, the Irish will hit the road for matches against No. 12 Tennessee, which advanced to the NCAA semifinals last year, on Sunday and No. 30 Kentucky, which made it to the NCAA round of 16 in ’02, on Monday. Notre Dame has won in each of its last two trips to Kentucky, but is winless in six previous matches in Knoxville, Tenn.
#21 Notre Dame 6, Boston College 1
No. 1: #124 Alicia Salas (ND) d. Szilvia Szegedi (BC) 6-2, 6-2
No. 2: Caylan Leslie (ND) d. Nida Waseem (BC) 6-3, 6-4
No. 3: Allison Ashley (BC) d. Kristina Stastny (ND) 6-3, 6-2
No. 4: Katie Cunha (ND) d. Morgan Landes (BC) 7-6 (7-4), 6-2
No. 5: Lauren Connelly (ND) d. Amy Molden (BC) 6-2, 3-6, 6-1
No. 6: Jennifer Smith (ND) d. Emily Hellberg (BC) 7-6 (11-9), 6-2
No. 1: Hellberg/Waseem (BC) d. Cunha/Stastny (ND) 8-4
No. 2: L. Connelly/Salas (ND) d. Ashley/Szegedi (BC) 8-2
No. 3: Sarah Jane Connelly/Smith (ND) d. Landes/Emily Yeomans (BC) 8-0