Sept. 24, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The quest for its sixth BIG EAST title in nine years in the league and a 12th consecutive top-30 finish begins this weekend for the University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team. The Irish open their 2003-04 season by traveling to Peachtree City, Ga. for the adidas Invitational, an elite tournament running Thursday-Sunday and featuring singles and doubles action. Notre Dame returns nine monogram winners, including six of their top seven players from last year’s squad that was 16-9, won the BIG EAST title, advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament and finished ranked 21st in the nation.
ADIDAS INVITATIONAL: Notre Dame will have 10 players in action in the adidas Invitational, which features a field consisting of competitors from a number of top teams. Among the schools sending participants are Duke, defending NCAA champion Florida, Louisville, Northwestern, Tennessee, TCU, and Wisconsin. The field consists of five schools that finished 2003 in the national top 25, while the participating schools feature 18 singles players and 10 doubles teams listed in the preseason national rankings. The event features a pair of singles draws (adi & das), as well as doubles play. Only doubles will be played Thursday, while the final three days will feature both singles and doubles action.
Notre Dame will have five players in the adi singles draw: seniors Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) and Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.), junior Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.), sophomore Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy), and freshman Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.). The das draw will feature another five Irish competitors: senior Emily Neighbours (Indianapolis, Ind./Park Tudor School), sophomores Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.), Liz Donohue (Sioux Falls, S.D./O’Gorman H.S.), and Kelly Nelson (St. Petersburg, Fla./Shorecrest Preparatory School), and freshman Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.). In doubles, Salas and Lauren Connelly, ranked 37th nationally in the preseason doubles rankings, will pair together, as will the No. 44 team of Stastny and Sarah Jane Connelly. The other Notre Dame teams will be the Thompson twins, who are the No. 1 doubles team in the USTA Girls’ 18-and-under national rankings, as well as Leslie/Neighbours, and Donohue/Nelson. Sophomore Jennifer Smith (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg H.S.) is the only Notre Dame player who will not be in action, as she is still sidelined from a summer shoulder injury.
This will mark the second year in a row that the Irish have participated in the adidas Invitational. In 2002, Notre Dame’s performance was highlighted by Salas and Stastny going 4-0 to win the das flight doubles championship. In singles, Lauren Connelly notched the biggest win of the tournament for an Irish player, upsetting #52 Jessica Rush of Northwestern.
PRESEASON NATIONAL RANKINGS: Two singles players and a pair of doubles teams earned mention in the preseason Intercollegiate Tennis Assocation (ITA) national singles and doubles rankings, released earlier this month. Seniors Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) and Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) are 26th and 63rd, respectively, in singles. Salas also is listed in doubles, at 37th with sophomore Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.). Junior Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) and sophomore Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) are 44th in doubles. All the rankings except for Stastny’s marked personal career highs, while Leslie’s listing is the highest for an Irish player in singles since current Notre Dame assistant coach Michelle Dasso finished her career ranked fifth in the final listing of 2000-01.
IT TAKES TWO, BABY: Seniors Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) and Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) will serve as co-captains of the 2003-04 Irish squad. It marks just the sixth time in the program’s history and the first in 16 years that Notre Dame will have co-captains. The last time two players shared the captain’s mantle was 1986-87, when Michelle Sadie Dasso and Tammy Schmidt filled the roles.
TOUGH DUAL SLATE AWAITS IRISH: Eight matches against teams that finished 2002-03 ranked in the national top 25 highlight the spring dual-match schedule for Notre Dame. In all, the Irish will face a dozen teams that earned NCAA tournament berths a year ago and 16 that were ranked in the top 70 of last year’s final national rankings. Notre Dame opens 2004 by taking part in the Kickoff Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. before beginning dual-match play on Jan. 29 at Michigan. It will have nine home matches, highlighted by visits from rivals Northwestern (April 15, ranked 18th at end of ’03) and Miami (April 4, 23rd), as well as Illinois (March 4), which was 22nd in the nation at the end of last year. A brutal road slate includes five matches with teams that finished last year in the national top 15, but for the second time in five years, the Irish will leave the continental United States for regular-season action. Over spring break, Notre Dame will be in Wikaloa, Hawaii for matches against Duke (March 10) and Tennessee (March 13). The Blue Devils reached the final four in ’03 and finished the season ranked third in the nation after being listed No. 1 for the first time in school history earlier in the year. The Lady Vols finished ’03 ranked 10th in the nation. Notre Dame also visited Hawaii in January of 2000, winning two of three matches. Other than those two difficult tests, the Irish will travel to William & Mary (April 10, eighth at end of ’03), North Carolina (March 28, ninth), and VCU (Feb. 13, 15th). Notre Dame will face a pair of different opponents in 2004: VCU and Marquette (April 3 at home).
The fall slate features seven events, but two will be for just the top few Irish players. Notre Dame’s lone home date is an exhibition match vs. USC on Oct. 17.
IRISH AGAIN AMONG NATION’S FINEST ACADEMICALLY: Notre Dame was named a 2002-03 Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All-Academic Team for the fourth straight year and seventh time in eight years, while also having seven players earn ITA Scholar-Athlete awards. Among Division I schools, only the University of Evansville matched the seven Irish Scholar-Athlete recipients, which is the most by a Division I school in a single year in the 24-year history of the award. Notre Dame also was one of just five schools to earn the team honor and finish in the top 25 of the final ITA national rankings. Winners of the Scholar-Athlete Award were 2003 graduate and team captain Katie Cunha, current senior Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.), and sophomores Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.), Liz Donohue (Sioux Falls, S.D./O’Gorman H.S.), Kelly Nelson (St. Petersburg, Fla./Shorecrest Preparatory School), Jennifer Smith (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg H.S.), and Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy). The ITA All-Academic Team award goes to teams with a cumulative GPA of 3.20 or better, while the Scholar-Athlete Award honors monogram winners who have a 3.50+ GPA for the year.
Notre Dame has earned mention as an All-Academic team seven times in the eight years since the ITA began the award, missing out only in 1999. Only one Division I program — Western Michigan — has a better academic mark, with the Broncos gaining the distinction every year from 1996-2003. Southern Illinois and the University of Evansville are also seven-time winners of the team honor.
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 all 26 varsity sports and serves as a supplement to the game recaps and weekly releases provided on the official athletic website, 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 Eileen Carroll at email@example.com, who also can provide any needed information about the Irish tennis program.