Nov. 12, 2000
By Eric Wachter
Following a rebuilding year in which the Irish women’s tennis team exceeded expectations by reaching the NCAA round of 16 for the first time since 1996, Notre Dame returns seven of its top eight players and welcomes another talented freshman class.
“We had a good year last year and with most people returning and three freshmen, hopefully we’ll be able to progress and pick up where we left off last year,” says Jay Louderback, who enters his 12th year as head coach of the Irish.
Gone from the 2000 squad that finished 23-7 and ranked 13th in the country is Kelly Zalinski – who graduated as the Irish leader in career singles wins and combined singles and doubles victories – but the Irish welcome freshmen Caylan Leslie, Alicia Salas and Emily Neighbours. Two-time All-America senior captain Michelle Dasso headlines the group of returning players – a list that includes five of the top six singles players and the top two doubles teams from ’00.
Dasso enters her final season at Notre Dame as the team captain after a summer in which she won the singles title at the Harrisonburg (Va.) United States Tennis Association professional event. One of the most fiercely competitive players in the country, Dasso has won 71 dual singles matches in her career against just 12 losses, mostly at No. 1 singles.
Junior Becky Varnum enters her second season at No. 2 singles after playing at No. 4 as a freshman. She played her best tennis at the end of the 2000 season, winning 10 of her last 15 matches at No. 2 singles.
In addition to their singles contributions at the top of the lineup, Dasso and Varnum are expected to pair up as Notre Dame’s No. 1 doubles team once again. As first-year partners, the two qualified for the 2000 NCAA doubles championship, reaching the second round.
Juniors Lindsey Green and Nina Vaughan starred in the middle of the lineup last year and could be needed to play higher in the lineup this year. Green trailed only Dasso in the number of dual-match singles wins with 22 and is on pace to become Notre Dame’s leader in career doubles wins with a 54-16 record after two seasons.
Vaughan played a major part in the Irish success a year ago and will play a key role in the 2001 lineup. After playing in just one dual match as a freshman, Vaughan won 20 matches last year at mostly No. 4 singles.
Kimberly Guy enters her senior year fully recovered from a wrist injury that interrupted her breakthrough season in 2000. Guy already had seven wins at No. 6 singles – including her first career victory over a ranked opponent – and was ranked 17th in doubles with Katie Cunha when her injury occurred. After a full recovery and a summer of hard work, Guy has her powerful serve and groundstrokes back in gear, ready to work her way back into the singles lineup.
Cunha moved into the lineup at No. 6 singles following Guy’s injury and responded by winning 13 of her first 14 matches, finishing with the most wins and highest winning percentage of any Irish player at that spot under Louderback. With her strong serve, tricky slice backhand and athletic play, Cunha finished with a 21-6 overall singles record.
The Cunha-Guy team should give the Irish a solid duo at No. 2 doubles as the 14th-ranked team nationally entering the season.
Senior Sarah Scaringe could give the Irish help in the doubles lineup. Juniors Berica Day and Michelle Hamilton also provide depth to the squad
Louderback expects the freshman class of Leslie, Neighbours and Salas to have a significant impact on the squad this season in addition to the future.
“We are really excited about all three freshmen. We are figuring that at least one will be playing doubles and they’ll have a shot in singles as well. All three will get even better and be very good for us for the next four years.”
SIDE BAR INFORMATION….
Senior All-American Michelle Dasso entered the ’00 fall season ranked 18th in the preseason Intercollegiate Tennis Association singles rankings, following a final junior year ranking of 27th – an injury-induced drop of nearly 20 spots from the No. 8 ranking she held during her sophomore season
Dasso began her senior season healthier and more eager than ever, and it became evident when she made Notre Dame history in her first event of the 2000 fall season. In her two previous appearances at the T. Rowe National Clay Court Championships – the first leg of the collegiate grand slam – Dasso had reached the quarterfinals.
This year she saved six match points in her quarterfinal match, winning in a third-set tiebreaker to reach the semifinals. Dasso then won another three-set battle in the semifinals, earning her spot in Irish history as the only women’s tennis player to reach a grand slam final.
“Every match was tough and I easily could have lost the matches I won,” says Dasso.
“I just went out there and had fun and didn’t give up, and it worked out for me.”
The championship was not nearly as much fun, as a strained stomach muscle hindered Dasso in a straight-set loss. “It was very exciting to make the final but my injury was disappointing,” says Dasso. “It was frustrating not be able to play my best in the final.”
Despite the setback in the final, Dasso continued her strong fall at the Riviera All-American Championships, the second grand slam of the season. Matched with third-seeded and fourth-ranked Kristina Kraszewski of Washington in the first round, Dasso rallied from a 3-5 deficit in the first set to beat Kraszewski 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (7-5), 6-1 for the first time after three previous defeats. She followed that win with another victory before falling in the quarterfinals. “It was awesome beating her because I had lost to her three times in college,” says Dasso.
“The fall results definitely help my confidence going into January because I’m much more prepared and healthier than last year. I feel like whoever we play in dual matches, I’ll be able to beat at No. 1 singles.”