June 8, 2004
The University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team was listed 27th in the final set of Intercollegiate Tennis Association national rankings, released earlier this week. The Irish, who were second in the final Midwest Region rankings, also had a pair of top-30 performers in the individual rankings, as senior co-captain Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) was 22nd in singles and the pair of freshman twins Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) and Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) ended 26th in doubles. The Irish, who were 21st in the preseason and peaked at 18th after opening 7-1, finished the season 12-12. Notre Dame, the top seed, lost to eventual NCAA quarterfinalist Miami in the title match of the BIG EAST Championship, but gained an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, defeating Iowa in the opening round before falling to Northwestern. Notre Dame’s top-30 finish in the ITA rankings was its 12th in as many years. The final regional rankings placed Notre Dame second to the Wildcats in the Midwest, though three schools – Michigan (23rd), Illinois (24th), and Indiana (25th) – finished ahead of the Irish in the national listing. Northwestern pulled out a 4-3 victory at Notre Dame in the regular season before prevailing 4-1 in the NCAAs. It marked the second straight year the Irish were second to NU in the Midwest Region rankings and the 12th in a row that Notre Dame was among the region’s top three squads. Two Irish singles players and a pair of doubles teams were listed in the individual regional rankings. Salas, who was 17th as a sophomore and sixth in ’03 in the Midwest rankings, ended up second to Northwestern’s Cristelle Grier, while Christian Thompson was 17th. Salas’ finish marked the 10th time in the last 11 seasons that Notre Dame featured one of the top two players in the Midwest Region. In doubles, the Thompsons were third behind NU’s Grier and Jessica Rush, as well as Sarah Batty and Linda Tran of Indiana. Salas and sophomore Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) were 11th for the second year in a row. Notre Dame has had one of the region’s top three doubles teams 11 times in the last 12 years. Salas, who was ranked as high as 10th in the nation earlier this season, concluded her final campaign with a 24-17 record, including 15 wins over ranked opponents, six of them vs. top-30 players. She earned her second consecutive invitation to the NCAA Singles Championship and became just the fourth Irish player ever to qualify for each leg of the collegiate grand slam in a season. She finished her career with a 95-42 singles mark, including 52-25 in dual matches. Salas was honored with the Byron V. Kanaley Award, the highest distinction bestowed upon Irish student-athletes, for being most exemplary as both a student and a leader. She also was the national winner of the Cissie Leary Sportsmanship Award for displaying inspiring dedication and commitment to her team, which enhanced her team’s performance and exemplified the spirit of college tennis. Salas, who also was tabbed the ITA Midwest Region Senior Player of the Year, finished with 16 wins at No. 1 singles (in 32 matches), making her just the seventh player in Notre Dame history to register 10+ victories at the position. Salas, named to the BIG EAST’s singles all-tournament team in each of its two years of existence, also was tabbed the team’s MVP and its recipient of the Knute Rockne Student-Athlete Award as the squad’s top student. It was the second time she had been honored with both (MVP in 2001-02, Rockne in 2002-03). The Thompson twins, the first all-freshman team to play a match at No. 1 since 1993, became the first all-rookie pair since 1998 to gain an invitation to the NCAA Doubles Championship, in which they upset the nation’s 15th-ranked pair before losing in three sets in the round of 16. Prior to this year, only one Irish rookie (Wendy Crabtree in 1993) had played in the NCAA doubles tournament. The twins, who were 22-17 including 12-11 at No. 1, were by far the highest-ranked all-freshman team in the final national rankings. Among the Thompsons’ five wins over ranked opponents was a 9-8 (7-5) upset of Grier and Rush, who were ranked second in the country at the time. The twins also were named to the BIG EAST all-tournament team. Christian Thompson was the first Irish freshman to play in the top two singles positions since current assistant coach Michelle Dasso filled the No. 2 spot in 1998. Thompson finished 25-13, including 13-8 in dual matches at No. 2. She lost just once from March 28 until the end of the season, winning seven times and having three matches abandoned with her holding slim third-set advantages. Thompson posted her first career win against a ranked foe on April 10, when she topped #109 Lena Sherbakov of William & Mary 6-4, 6-0. She finished 14-6 against the Midwest Region and was 21-2 when winning the opening set. In fall action, Thompson finished third in the white flight of the Kentucky Fall Classic before contributing a singles victory in Notre Dame’s 4-3 exhibition triumph over USC. She then won six matches in the ITA Midwest Championships, fighting her way through qualifying before eventually falling in the quarterfinals to fourth-ranked Grier. Salas and Connelly finished the season on a nine-match winning streak to end with a 24-7 record, including 18-5 in dual-match action at No. 2. The duo did not lose in the final two months of the campaign and clinched the doubles point for Notre Dame four times, including a tiebreaker victory in the final match on court against Purdue. The pair compiled a 41-16 record as a team over the past two campaigns. Salas and Connelly, who were ranked as high as 36th in the national listing, posted a 12-3 record against Midwest Region foes in 2003-04. The elder player concluded her career with an 83-38 doubles record, including 54-25 in dual-match action, while Connelly stands 47-20 (33-12) midway through her time at Notre Dame. The Irish lose a pair of starters to graduation, but will return nine players who have earned monograms in at least one of the last two seasons, including seven who were starters in 2003 and/or ’04.