’96-’97 Irish Outlook
For Continued Success With a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals lastyear and the graduation of the most successful senior class in school history, onemight think that the University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team is facing arebuilding year in 1996-97. The truth of the matter is that the Irish have settheir goals even higher this season and head coach Jay Louderback believes thesquad is capable of bigger accomplishments in ’96-’97.
Much of the optimism centersaround sophomore Jennifer Hall (Oklahoma City, Okla.), who last year became thefirst Irish player to earn All-America honors as a freshman. Hall finished theseason ranked No. 9 in the country by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association andadvanced to the third round of the NCAA singles tournament before being eliminatedby eventual national champion Jill Craybas. Hall was a member of the United StatesTennis Association All-American Summer Team and played several satellitetournaments last summer with that squad. “Jennifer has a great desire to be thebest player in the country,” says Louderback. “She also has the work ethic andability to achieve that goal. Jennifer is very strong mentally and gets strongerduring tight matches.” Hall was named the team MVP last year and was also named theIntercollegiate Tennis Association Midwest rookie of the year. She advanced to theround of 16 at the National Clay Court Championship and the quarterfinals of theMidwest Regional Rolex tournaments. Hall made an impact at the Rolex Nationals asshe advanced to the semifinals by beating three straight nationally-rankedopponents. Hall played No. 1 singles for the Irish last season and held down theNo. 2 doubles spot with Erin Gowen (Mercer Island, Wash.).
Gowen is one of twoseniors on the team this year and will serve as the team’s captain. Gowen has beena solid contributor on the team for three seasons, despite a knee injury in herfreshman year that required surgery. Gowen played No. 5 singles last season and was ranked in doubles with Hall. “Erin has an impeccable work ethic,” saysLouderback. “She is a fierce competitor and a strong role model for the team. Herexperience in tough matches will be invaluable to us.”
The only other senior on theteam is Tiffany Gates (Grandville, Mich.), a transfer from Minnesota who is in herfirst year with the Irish. Gates missed most of last season with a shoulder injurybut played in the ’95 NCAA singles tournament and is a two-time all-Big Tenselection. “Tiffany brings a great deal of big match experience to our lineup,”says Louderback. “She has shown a great desire to compete at Notre Dame. Once shesettles in, she can become a great leader on and off the court.”
Notre Dame’sjunior class took big steps in match play last year and will be a key part of theIrish team if it is to be competitive on the national level.
Junior Molly Gavin(Escondido, Calif.) saw a great deal of experience last year at the No. 6 singlesspot and won 14 of her final 16 singles matches. She has been a steady performer inthe dual match lineup for the past two seasons with an overall career mark of 25-19in dual matches. “Molly won some big singles matches last year,” says Louderback.”Her experience in big matches should carry over to this season and strengthen ourlineup. She plays her best tennis in tight situations.”
Classmate Kelley Olson(Medford, Ore.) was named the team’s most improved player last season and playedprimarily No. 6 singles. In addition, she played the No. 3 doubles position withMarisa Velasco. Olson finished the ’96 season the winner of her final four matchesof the year and at one point during the year had won seven of nine matches indoubles. “Like Molly, Kelley really came into her own last year,” says Louderback.”Kelley has continued to improve each year by working hard on her game during theschool year as well as the summer.”
Junior Darcie Sweet (Stuart, Fla.) has seenlimited playing action over the past two seasons, but the coaching staff believesshe will challenge for a spot in the lineup this season. “Darcie’s ground strokesand court coverage make her a tough opponent to beat,” says Louderback.
JoiningHall in a talented sophomore class are Velasco (Chula Vista, Calif.) and CourtneyHaskell (Oneida, N.Y.). Velasco enjoyed an outstanding freshman season with theIrish and ended the year with a national ranking. Velasco saw most of her action atNo. 4 singles and played No. 3 doubles. Velasco began her collegiate career with 16straight wins and ended the regular season with 13 straight victories. “Marisabrings a great will to win to the court every day,” says Louderback. “She is agreat competitor who fights every point. I expect her to move toward the top of ourlineup this season.” Haskell saw limited playing time with the Irish last seasonand had a 4-2 record in open singles. “Courtney is a very good athlete and isbeginning to show how much a year in college tennis can help you improve,” saysLouderback. “She has been willing to work hard and will have a chance to challengein the doubles lineup.”
Notre Dame will have two talented freshman on the team inSarah Scaringe (Marietta, Ga.) and Kelly Zalinski (Greer, S.C.). Scaringe enjoyed asuccessful high school career in which she lost only two matches. Scaringe was 13-0in singles in her senior year as her team won the state championship. “Sarah has achance this year to make a big jump into college competition,” says Louderback.”She has a big lefty serve and a great desire to improve.” Zalinski was a four-timeall-state and all-conference performer in high school and went undefeated in dualmatches in her career. Zalinski was ranked No. 48 in the country and fifth in theSouth in her age division last year. “Kelly brings tremendous junior tennisexperience to Notre Dame,” says Louderback. “She has the ability to and power tostrengthen our lineup and will improve a great deal with college competition.”
Notre Dame will again play a highly-competitive regular season schedule withmatches against nine of last year’s top 20 teams and will play in the National TeamIndoor Championship, which features the top 16 teams in the country. Teams on theschedule that competed in the NCAA tournament last year are BYU (Feb. 1), Clemson(Feb. 17), Wisconsin (Feb. 27), Duke (March 1), Wake Forest (March 9), Texas (March10) and William & Mary (April 5). The Irish will defend their BIG EAST Conferencetitle April 17-20 in Miami.
“Our team is not about to rest on its laurels of lastyear,” says Louderback. “We will have to work hard in the fall and the winter forthings to pay off in the spring. I know this team will be exciting to watch as wecontinue to develop as a national force.”