Jan. 25, 2002
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team will open its 27th season with two dual matches Saturday at the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The Irish, ranked 14th nationally, will take on #59 Illinois State at 10 a.m. followed by a 3 p.m. match with Northern Iowa.
Notre Dame, ranked 14th nationally, returns six monogram winners and four of its top five players from last year’s squad which was 25-5 and attained the program’s highest-ever ranking when they reached the national top five for the first time in school history. Notre Dame finished the season ranked 10th and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the sixth year in a row and the eighth time in the past nine seasons. The Irish have finished in the top 20 in each of the past four seasons and have been in the top 30 in the final rankings for each of the past nine years.
Illinois State was 21-6 a season ago, including a perfect 9-0 mark in Missouri Valley Conference matches. The Redbirds finished 58th after advancing to the NCAA tournament and falling to Wake Forest in the first round. This year’s squad is ranked 59th in the preseason ITA rankings and dropped its season opener last week to #29 Illinois 6-1. Sophomore Liina Suurvarik is ranked 107th nationally in singles, while she and junior Alesia Mikalayeva are 14th in doubles. That pair won the doubles title at the Region IV Championship and registeed a 9-8 (7-1) win over Irish seniors Lindsey Green (El Cajon, Calif.) and Becky Varnum (Colorado Springs, Colo.) in the semifinals of that tournament.
The Irish and Redbirds will meet for the fifth time, but the third in the past four years. Notre Dame has captured each of the previous four meetings, including three matches at home. The Redbirds are one of 88 teams the Irish have faced, but never lost to. Last season, the Irish defeated Illinois State 7-0, also in the first match of a doubleheader in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. Mikalayeva and Suurvarik defeated junior Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash.) and 2001 graduate Kimberly Guy 9-7 at No. 1 doubles, but the Irish took the other two matches to clinch the doubles point. Notre Dame then won all six singles matches, including three-set victories by Nina Vaughan (Corona del Mar, Calif.) over Mikalayeva 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 6-3 at No. 1, Guy over Suurvarik 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 at No. 2 and a 6-2, 0-6, 6-4 triumph by Emily Neighbours (Indianapolis, Ind.) over Alana Hoffman at No. 6.
Northern Iowa posted an 18-7 mark in 2001 and won eight of nine MVC matches. They were ranked as high as 68th nationally. This year’s team is unranked in the preseason ITA rankings and fell 6-1 to Eastern Michigan on Friday in its season opener.
The Irish and Panthers will meet for just the second time Saturday. Notre Dame downed Northern Iowa 8-1 in 1980 in the only previous contest. The Panthers are one of 88 schools that the Irish hold an undefeated record against.
LAST WEEK’S ACTION: Senior Lindsey Green (El Cajon, Calif.) was the only Irish player to participate in the first event on Notre Dame’s spring schedule. She traveled to Las Vegas, Nev. last weekend to play singles in the National Collegiate Tennis Classic. Green lost in the first round to UNLV’s Tracy Chong, but she then defeated Ashley Robredo of Tennessee and UNLV’s Agnieszka Abram to advance to the consolation final, which was not played. Green has won four of her last five singles matches, dating back to the fall season.
IRISH HEAD COACH: Jay Louderback is in his 13th year at Notre Dame with a 225-101 (.690) record and his 23rd year as a collegiate coach with a 429-279 (.606) mark. Louderback is an eight-time conference coach of the year (five BIG EAST, three Midwestern Collegiate Conference) and has won the BIG EAST honor in each of the past three seasons. He has also been named Midwest Region Coach of the Year three times. Louderback is the winningest coach in Irish women’s tennis history. His 2001 team won 25 matches, setting a new mark for wins by an Irish team at the NCAA Division I level. He has guided the Irish to NCAA championship appearances in eight of the last nine years, including a national quarterfinal appearance in 1996. His teams have finished among the top 20 teams in the country in seven of the last nine years and in the top 30 in all but two of his years at Notre Dame. His Notre Dame players have won 13 All-America honors in his 12 years. The Arkansas City, Kan., native, and 1976 graduate of Wichita State arrived at Notre Dame prior to the 1990 season after coaching for seven years at his alma mater and three years (men and women) at Iowa State.
ITA RANKINGS: Notre Dame enters the 2002 season ranked 14th among the 75 teams ranked by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association after finishing 2001 ranked 10th. It marks the seventh straight year the Irish have been ranked in the preseason top 20. Senior All-American Becky Varnum (Colorado Springs, Colo.) is ranked 58th in singles and combines with classmate Lindsey Green (El Cajon, Calif.) to hold the No. 29 ranking. Also in doubles, junior Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash.) and freshman Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla.) broke into the rankings at No. 53.
HOME, SWEET HOME: The Irish have had excellent success at home over the past few years. The Irish were 10-1 at home last season and 12-0 in 1999-2000. The only loss was a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Duke in last year’s season opener after which Notre Dame won 10 straight home matches. The Irish have won 26 of the past 27 home regular-season matches. Over the past four seasons, Notre Dame is 41-5 (.891) at home. In the Jay Louderback era, the Irish are 109-23 (.826) in the friendly confines of the Courtney Tennis Center and Eck Tennis Pavilion.
IRISH FACE TOUGH SLATE: The Irish again face a difficult schedule in 2002. In dual-match play, they will take on 15 teams that participated in the NCAA tournament a season ago, including six squads that advanced to the round of 16. Notre Dame faces 19 ranked opponents in 22 dual matches this year. The Irish will go up against four top-10 foes this season, visiting No. 3 Duke (April 1) and No. 10 Texas (April 15), while playing host to No. 6 Tennessee (Feb. 16) and No. 9 Northwestern (April 6). Eleven of the 14 home matches for Notre Dame will be against 2001 NCAA tournament teams, as will seven of the final eight matches overall. That stretch includes road showdowns with round-of-16 participants Wake Forest and Texas, as well as Duke, which was ranked third in the nation at the end of last season. The final home matches of the regular season feature regional rival Northwestern and BIG EAST foe Miami. The Irish will also compete in the USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships for the ninth consecutive season.
IT TAKES TWO, BABY: Seniors Becky Varnum (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Lindsey Green (El Cajon, Calif.) each have an opportunity to break the Notre Dame school record for career doubles victories. Both Varnum and Green have 90 career doubles victories, 19 shy of 2001 graduate Michelle Dasso’s 109. Varnum set the school record last year for doubles wins in a season with 37.
LET’S TAKE THIS . . . INDOORS: The Irish will take part in the United States Tennis Association/Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Team Indoor Championships taking place Feb. 7-10 at the A.C. Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison, Wisc. The 16-team field for the nation’s premier national indoor tournament was announced in December by the ITA. Six teams on Notre Dame’s 2002 dual-match schedule are in the field: Duke, North Carolina, Northwestern, Tennessee, Wake Forest and host Wisconsin. Also making the tournament is Southern California, which the Irish faced in an exhibition match in October. Rounding out the field are Baylor, Fresno State, Georgia, Old Dominion, Oklahoma State, NCAA champion Stanford, NCAA finalist Vanderbilt and Washington. The Irish, who finished in a fifth-place tie last season, have played in each national indoor tournament since 1994.
IRISH INK THREE: Jay Louderback recently announced the signing of three incoming freshman for the 2002-03 school year. Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla.), Jennifer Smith (Charlotte, N.C.) and Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo.) have signed national letters of intent to enroll at Notre Dame next year and join the Irish tennis team in the fall. All three are ranked among the top 25 current high school seniors in the country and they have combined for seven state high school titles and four national doubles titles in junior competition. Connelly is ranked 58th nationally among players 18 and younger and is the 25th-ranked high school senior. She has a National Indoors doubles title to her credit, as well as three Oklahoma state titles at No. 2 singles, playing behind her sister, current Irish freshman Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla.). Smith, who did not participate in prep tennis, is ranked 26th in the country in the 18-and-under division and is 10th nationally among high school seniors. She also has a national doubles title to her credit, coming at the National Hardcourt championships. Stastny recently captured her fourth state singles title, becoming the first player in history to win four Missouri state championships in singles. Stastny is ranked 21st in the 18s and is the eighth-ranked player in the nation who will enroll in college next fall. She has won doubles titles in the National Indoors and the National Clay Court championships. Stastny’s brother Yan is one of the top freshmen on the Notre Dame hockey team and her father, Peter, is a member of the National Hockey League Hall of Fame.