Oct. 9, 2004
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Sophomore twins Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) and Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.), the seventh-ranked doubles team in college tennis, now stand poised just one victory away from claiming Notre Dame’s first collegiate grand slam title, as they defeated the 11th-ranked team in the nation on Saturday afternoon to move into the title match at the Riviera/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Women’s All-American Championships at the Riviera Tennis Club. The sisters will take on University of Florida freshmen Whitney Benik and Lolita Frangulyan on Sunday at 11 a.m. (PDT) in a tussle for the first national championship of the 2004-05 season.
The Thompsons edged a pair of Croatians from the University of New Mexico, junior Maja Kovacek and sophomore Iva Gersic, in a tiebreaker, 9-8 (7-5), in the semifinals. The Lobos won the first two games, but neither team led by more than a single game from then on. The Irish actually served for the match at 8-7 and had a match point, but the New Mexico duo saved it and forced a tiebreaker. Notre Dame won three of the first four points of the `breaker and never allowed Kovacek and Gersic to catch up, eventually winning 7-5.
“This was a really great match,” said Irish head coach Jay Louderback. “There were some really unbelievable points in the tiebreaker. Catrina and Christian played very well, and, in particular, played really well together as a team. They were really aggressive, rushing the net a lot, and that paid off. They did a great job today.”
The Irish duo is the first to ever reach the doubles final of a collegiate grand slam event. Notre Dame’s only previous chance at winning a national championship tournament came in 2000 at the now-defunct T. Rowe Price National Clay Court Championships, when current assistant coach Michelle Dasso advanced to the title match before falling to Bea Bielik of Wake Forest.
The Thompsons – who have topped the #6, #1, and #11 teams over the last three days – are the second set of twins ever to reach the final of a collegiate grand slam. Tami and Teri Whitlinger of Stanford claimed the title in the 1989 ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships. The Las Vegas natives are playing in just their second grand slam tournament. They were the first all-freshman team in Division I since 1998 to earn a berth in the NCAA Doubles Championship, reaching the round of 16 in May before falling in three sets.
Benik and Frangulyan took an interesting path to the final, as the were defeated in the final round of prequalifying in the All-American Championships, losing 8-5 against Georgia Tech’s Alison Silverio and Kristi Miller. The Gator duo was selected as a lucky loser, gaining a spot in the qualifying rounds when another team withdrew. Benik and Frangulyan won three matches in qualifying and then were unbeaten in three main-draw tilts, downing their teammates, senior Zerene Reyes and junior Jennfer Magley – ranked 12th – by an 8-3 score in Saturday’s semifinals. The Florida rookies are 9-1 on the season.
The Thompsons, who came to Notre Dame in 2003 as the top-ranked girls’ 18-and-under doubles team in the United States, improved to 16-6 collegiately in open tournaments and are now 9-9 against ranked teams. Over their last 12 matches, they have five victories against top-15 foes. They are now 6-0 this season – including four wins over top-25 foes – and 28-17 in their collegiate careers.
The All-American Championships, the National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships (to which the Thompsons have earned an automatic bid into the main draw), and the year-end NCAA Championships are college tennis’ three national championship events. The other leg of the collegiate grand slam, the T. Rowe Price National Clay Court Championships, was discontinued prior to the 2001-02 season. The Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championships date back to 1983 and the famous Riviera Tennis Club has played host to the event since 1988 (it also hosted an intercollegiate women’s championship from 1986-88).