1996-97 In Review

Irish advance to an NCAA appearance for fourth time in five years.

The University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team competed in the NCAA Championship for the fourth time in five seasons in 1996-97 as the Irish advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Midwest Regional. Notre Dame finished the season with a final record of 18-11 and a regional record of 7-1. The Irish were also ranked No. 21 in the country in the final Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll.

In the NCAA Midwest Regional, which was held on the Notre Dame campus, the Irish defeated Illinois in the first round by a 5-3 score before losing to eventual regional champion Wisconsin in the semifinals, 5-2.

Notre Dame had two representatives in the singles and doubles portion of the NCAA Championship. Jennifer Hall played in the field of 64 in the singles tournament and defeated Lauren Nikolaus of William & Mary in the first round by a 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 count. Hall was eliminated from the tournament when she lost to Florida’s M.C. White in the second round by a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 score.

Hall and teammate Tiffany Gates played in the 32-team doubles tournament and won a first-round match against Kim Schiff and Anne Plessinger of Vanderbilt by a 6-1, 0-6, 6-4 score. The duo was eliminated by Courtney Chapman and Agnes Muzamel of Mississippi, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Hall was making her second straight singles tournament appearance and advanced to the round of 16 in 1996 before losing to eventual national champion Jill Craybas of Florida. Hall was making her first NCAA doubles appearance.

Gates also was making her first NCAA doubles appearance, although she played in the singles tournament in 1995 as a member of the Minnesota team before she transferred to Notre Dame.

Gates and Hall finished the season ranked No. 24 by the ITA in doubles, while Hall was ranked No. 35 in singles.

At the No. 1 singles position for the Irish, Hall played 19 matches against top 50 opponents (according to the final ITA rankings) in her 42 matches. Hall played seven matches against top 10 opponents and her highest-ranked win of the season was over No. 10 Nikolaus in the first round of the NCAAs. Of her 16 losses in singles this season, 14 of them were to opponents in the top 50. Hall had six wins over top 50 opponents.

Marisa Velasco finished the season with a 10-win match streak in singles. Velasco had a 6-14 record in singles on March 29, but came back to get her record to above the .500 plateau at 17-15. The eight-match winning streak began with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Michelle O of William & Mary, who finished the year ranked No. 50 in the country.

Kelly Zalinski was a steady force for the Irish in her freshman year of play. Zalinksi finished the year as a winner of six of her final seven singles matches, a winner of 11 of her last 13 matches and had an overall record of 32-13 in singles. Zalinski had an 18-8 mark in dual-match play, with a 17-8 mark at No. 4 singles. Earlier in the season, Zalinski won her flight at the William & Mary Invitational and the Fripp Island Invitational.

Notre Dame won the BIG EAST Conference tournament, which was held April 17-20 at the University of Miami. The Irish, who were the top seed in the event, defeated Providence in the quarterfinals (4-0), Boston College in the semifinals (4-0) and Miami in the championship match (4-0). The championship was the second-straight BIG EAST title for the Irish in their two years of membership in the league. For the second-straight year, Irish head coach Jay Louderback was named the BIG EAST coach of the year.

Notre Dame was in its second season as a member of the BIG EAST Conference in 1996-97 and won titles in men’s golf, volleyball, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, women’s swimming and women’s tennis.