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Women's Tennis To Face #25 Miami Saturday In BIG EAST Showdown

April 11, 2003

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. – A preview of a potential BIG EAST Conference Championship match is on the docket Saturday when the 24th-ranked Notre Dame women’s tennis team (13-7) takes on No. 25 Miami at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center in Coral Gables. The Irish and Hurricanes have met in each of the last seven BIG EAST Championship matches, with Notre Dame winning four conference titles and Miami earning three league crowns. The two teams also are the highest-ranked clubs in the BIG EAST this season, with both spending large portions of the season ranked in the ITA Top 25.
The Irish should be a well-rested crew by the time they take the courts on Saturday, having had nine days off since completing a rugged stretch of seven matches in 14 days on April 3. Following its match at Miami, Notre Dame will have another 13 days of rest before returning to south Florida on April 25 to open play at the 2003 BIG EAST Championship.

LAST TIME ON THE COURTS: Notre Dame extended its winning streak to a season-high five matches with a 6-1 victory over Indiana on April 3 at the IU Tennis Center. The Irish (13-7) have won nine of their last 11 contests, including six victories over Big Ten Conference opponents in a two-week span. The win over the Hoosiers also capped off a highly-successful six-day road trip for Notre Dame, as the Irish picked off No. 35 Ohio State and No. 24 Illinois before dispatching IU.
Veteran Notre Dame head coach Jay Louderback made a minor adjustment in his singles lineup, resting junior Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.), the nation’s 77th-ranked player, and inserting freshman Jennifer Smith (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg H.S.) in the No. 6 position. Smith rewarded her coach’s decision, pasting Indiana’s Jessica Groth, 6-0, 6-1, and teaming with junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) for a comfortable 8-3 win at No. 3 doubles.
Moments after the victory by Leslie and Smith, Notre Dame clinched the doubles point, as freshman Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) and senior captain Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash./Mercer Island H.S.) registered an 8-4 win at the No. 1 flight over the IU pair of Sarah Batty and Martina Grimm. The victory marked the seventh time in as many matches, and the 10th time in the last 12 matches that the Irish have captured the doubles point.
Notre Dame then wasted little time in nailing down the match victory, winning the first three singles contests off the court in dominating fashion. Smith was the first to finish with her triumph over Groth, followed by Connelly, who charted a 6-1, 6-1 conquest of IU’s Sophie Rychlik at the No. 5 position. The Irish then turned to their top singles player to seal the win, and the 33rd-ranked Leslie responded, nearly duplicating Smith’s singles performance with a 6-1, 6-0 win over the Hoosiers’ Linda Tran.
Once the match had been decided, sophomore Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) chalked up her ninth consecutive singles win, coming back to defeat Dominika Walterova in a third-set match tiebreaker, 3-6, 6-3, 1-0 (10-6). In her last 11 matches, Connelly has dropped the first set on seven occasions, but has rallied to win each time. She is 12-2 this season in matches extending beyond two sets (7-2 in three-setters and 5-0 in match tiebreakers) and is 9-9 when losing the first set.
Freshman Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) collected the final point for Notre Dame, also going to a third-set match tiebreaker to defeat Grimm, 6-1, 5-7, 1-0 (10-4). It was the fourth consecutive three-set match for the Irish rookie, who has won three of those marathon contests and is now 4-1 in match tiebreakers this season.

IRISH vs. HURRICANES: Miami comes into Saturday’s match with a 14-5 record (2-0 in the BIG EAST) and a No. 25 ranking in the latest ITA poll which was released Wednesday. Like Notre Dame, this will be the final regular-season match for the Hurricanes, who will go on a two-week hiatus before playing host to the BIG EAST Championships April 25-27.
UM should be pleased to return to its home courts following a five-match road trip that saw the Hurricanes win three times. In its last match on April 6, Miami came out on the short end of a 5-2 decision at William & Mary, a win that vaulted the Tribe five places in this week’s ITA rankings. The Hurricanes won the doubles point, but W&M rebounded to win the first five singles matches off the court and claimed the victory. Miami won nine of its first 11 matches this spring, but has found the going a bit tougher over the last five weeks, going 5-3 in those contests. All five of the Hurricanes’ losses this year have come to teams that are appearing in the Top 25 of this week’s ITA poll, including three vs. top-10 foes (Florida, Washington and Virginia Commonwealth). Miami has spent the entire season ranked in the Top 25 itself, peaking at No. 13 on Feb. 19. However, its No. 25 ranking this week is the team’s lowest of the year.
Part of the reason for the Hurricanes’ success this season has been the strong play from its young players. Freshman Melissa Applebaum is 15-4 in dual-match play (divided almost evenly among the top three singles positions), while sophomore Staci Stevens is 12-3 in dual matches (7-3 at the No. 4 flight) and classmate Megan Bradley is 12-7 in dual contests, competing entirely at the top two spots. The doubles team of Applebaum and Bradley also has been a strong force for Miami, posting an 11-2 record (all in dual matches) with all but one loss coming at the No. 1 flight.
Head coach Paige Yaroshuk is in her second year at Miami with a 28-12 (.700) record, and in her sixth year as a collegiate coach.
The Irish and Hurricanes have played five common opponents this season: Boston College, Illinois, Texas, Virginia Tech and William & Mary. Both teams are 4-1 against this quintet, having each lost to William & Mary (Notre Dame by a 4-3 score on March 23, and Miami by a 5-2 count on April 6).
This will be the 12th overall meeting between the two squads, with the Irish holding an 8-3 series edge, including a 5-3 advantage in south Florida. However, it will be only the fifth time the teams have met in the regular season, with Notre Dame having won each of the four previous in-season matches.
A year ago, the teams split their two encounters, with the Irish winning in the regular season and the Hurricanes claiming the rematch in the BIG EAST Championship final. In the first contest, Katie Cunha defeated Miami’s Sara Robbins in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, to clinch the victory for Notre Dame in the first-ever Ace for the Cure benefit match for cancer research. The win was especially poignant for Cunha, whose is the driving force behind the creation of Ace for the Cure, and whose family has been directly affected by the disease.
In the return match, Notre Dame took an early lead by winning the doubles point. However, Miami rallied and won the first four singles matches off the court (three in straight sets) to clinch its third conference championship. Both the Irish and Hurricanes went on to represent the BIG EAST in the 2002 NCAA Championships.

IRISH HEAD COACH JAY LOUDERBACK: Now in his 14th season under the Golden Dome, Jay Louderback owns a superb 252-122 (.674) record, with a 456-300 (.603) overall mark in 24 years of collegiate coaching. Louderback’s Irish have finished in the national top 30 in each of the last 10 seasons, have won 10 conference titles and registered 20 or more victories five times in the last seven seasons. After taking over a program looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance, Louderback has helped Notre Dame to the NCAAs nine times in the last 10 years, including five appearances in the round of 16 and a 1996 quarterfinal finish. His teams also have been ranked in every set of national rankings for an 11-year span from the beginning of the 1992-93 season to the present. Louderback reached three milestones earlier this season, gaining his 400th career victory as a women’s coach (Jan. 25 vs. Wisconsin), becoming the first coach in Notre Dame women’s tennis history to win 250 matches (March 29 vs. Ohio State), and becoming just the fifth active NCAA Division I women’s coach to win 450 career collegiate matches (March 8 vs. BYU).
Louderback, a four-time Midwest Region Coach of the Year, has been honored as his conference’s top coach on eight occasions, including five times in seven years in the BIG EAST. In his time at Notre Dame, Louderback’s players have earned All-America honors 13 times, won three national ITA awards, and earned 16 invitations to the NCAA singles championship and 10 to the NCAA doubles tournament. His players also have dominated the university awards, leading all sports in both Byron V. Kanaley awards (five) and Francis Patrick O’Connor awards (four). 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.

AMONG THE NATION’S ELITE: After winning nine of its last 11 matches, including six over Big Ten Conference opponents, Notre Dame rose three spots to 24th in the most recent Omni Hotels Collegiate Tennis Rankings, returning to the Top 25 for the first time since March 12. The Irish had dropped from 33 places in a two-week stretch late last month, a fall that could be attributed to the fact that those were the first sets of rankings to be determined by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s point-per-match computer formula, while each of the previous listings were based on coaches’ votes. The computer rankings do not take into account margin of victory or defeat and, thus, three 4-3 Irish losses to top-15 teams (#9 Tennessee, #11 William & Mary, and #14 Kentucky) count the same as 7-0 defeats.
Notre Dame’s No. 48 ranking on March 26 was the worst for the Irish since the ITA began ranking more than 25 teams in 1993. Prior to that point, Notre Dame had been ranked in the Top 25 in the last 125 sets of rankings released by the ITA, dating back to fall 1995. Nonetheless, the Irish have been ranked continuously for all of 11 consecutive seasons, a streak dating back to the preseason listing in the fall of 1992 and spanning nearly 200 sets of rankings.
A new set of individual rankings was released this week, with junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) checking in at No. 39 in singles. Earlier this season, she was as high as 33rd, becoming the highest-ranked Notre Dame player since Michelle Dasso finished her career fifth in the final 2001 rankings. Meanwhile, classmate Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) tumbled 10 spots to 87th in singles. In doubles, senior Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash./Mercer Island H.S.) and freshman Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) dropped three positions to No. 36, due mainly to the fact the pair have not played together since the start of Notre Dame’s current five-match winning streak.

ALMOST, BUT NOT QUITE: Notre Dame has had a series of near-misses in upset attempts this season. The Irish have played seven teams currently ranked in the top 25, winning just once (a 6-1 victory at No. 22 Illinois on April 2). Three of those contests were decided by 4-3 scores, while another trio were 5-2 decisions. Tennessee, currently ranked ninth, won the doubles point in the last match on-court to defeat the Irish by a point. No. 14 Kentucky got a win at No. 5 with the match tied 3-3 to beat Notre Dame, while 11th-ranked William & Mary rallied from a 2-0 deficit and got three-set wins at Nos. 2 (rallying from down two service breaks, 4-1, in the third) and 4 (with the match tied 3-3) for the victory. The Irish also dropped 5-2 matches to No. 5 Duke, No. 12 North Carolina and No. 16 Arizona State.

TINKERING TURNS TO TRIUMPH: Irish head coach Jay Louderback has proven why he is one of just five active coaches in NCAA Divsion I women’s tennis with 450 career victories by making three relatively minor lineup changes that have led to much Irish success. At the beginning of March, Louderback flipped his Nos. 1 and 2 players and his Nos. 5 and 6 competitors in the singles lineup. Notre Dame proceeded to go 7-2 in the month after posting a 4-5 record up to that point in the season. Junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.) moved into the No. 1 spot for the first time in her career and is 8-3 in that spot, while classmate Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) dropped to No. 2 after being 4-5 at the top spot. Salas has won four straight and is 6-4 overall at No. 2. At the bottom of the singles lineup, Louderback flip-flopped the Connelly sisters, acting as a catalyst for both of them to begin hot streaks. Sophomore Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) is 11-3 this year at No. 5, while freshman Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) has won eight of 10 at No. 6. The two combined for four match-clinching victories during March.
In doubles, Louderback put Leslie into the No. 3 position on Feb. 24. Since then, Notre Dame has won the match’s initial point 10 times in 12 matches, after doing so just four times in the initial eight matches of the season.

BIG ELEVEN (OR TWELVE)?: Though Notre Dame participates in the BIG EAST Conference in women’s tennis, a glance at the Irish schedule may not bear out that fact. Notre Dame will face only a trio of BIG EAST foes (Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami) during the regular season, but took on a total of eight teams from the Big Ten Conference, including six in seven matches. Only Penn State, Minnesota, and Michigan State from the Big Ten will not play the Irish this season. A year ago, Notre Dame played nine matches against Big Ten teams (including the NCAA tournament), posting a 5-4 mark. In ’03, the Irish went 7-1 against the Big Ten, losing only to No. 19 Northwestern.
Notre Dame has had a long history of playing Big Ten teams, posting an all-time 104-60 (.634) mark, averaging over six matches per season against Big Ten teams in the 27-year history of the program. Each of the six most common opponents for Notre Dame in the history of the program are members of the Big Ten (Northwestern-24 matches, Illinois-23, Purdue-22, Michigan-21, Wisconsin-18, Indiana-17).

DYNAMIC DOUBLES: Since Notre Dame head coach Jay Louderback made a minor change in his doubles lineup on Feb. 24, inserting Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.), the Irish have won the doubles point in 10 of 12 matches, including each of the last seven. Notre Dame had taken a 1-0 lead in four of the eight matches prior to that. Overall, the Irish have won the doubles point 14 times in 20 matches this season, including in nine of 11 contests in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. Notre Dame is 11-3 when winning the first point and 2-4 when dropping it.

SECOND TO NONE: Notre Dame’s No. 2 doubles team, junior Alicia Salas (Englewood, Colo./Cherry Creek H.S.) and freshman Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.), has been outstanding of late, winning nine of its last 10 matches. The pair has been a major reason the Irish have won the doubles point 10 times in the last 12 matches, including each of the last seven. The team has been especially effective in the clutch, posting a 4-1 record as the last match remaining on-court with the doubles point still hanging in the balance. In that situation, Salas and Connelly won against Wisconsin (8-6), Kentucky (8-6), Michigan (9-8), and Ohio State (9-8), while losing to Tennessee (8-5). The Irish pair is 12-5 in dual matches and 15-7 overall, while its match vs. BYU was abandoned with Notre Dame leading 6-3.

COUNT ON THE CONNELLYS: Irish sophomore Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) and freshman Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) have both been consistently superb in singles of late, accounting for two major reasons the Irish have won seven of their last nine matches. Sarah Jane Connelly has won nine matches in a row at No. 5 to improve to 22-10 overall this season, including 14-5 in dual matches. Both totals are team highs. Since being moved into the No. 6 position on March 1, Lauren Connelly is 9-2 after holding an 11-11 mark up to that point.

LETHAL LESLIE: Irish junior Caylan Leslie (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar H.S.), who missed all of last spring with a shoulder injury after going 30-12 as a freshman, has returned to action this spring with much success, establishing herself as one of the most dangerous players in college tennis. She is 16-8, including 14-6 in dual matches, and is ranked 39th nationally in singles, having defeated eight ranked players. Leslie returned after a 14-month layoff at the Collegiate Tennis Kickoff Classic, going 2-2 with wins over #60 Tina Hojnik of Georgia and #83 Jennifer Magley of Florida. After starting the dual-match season 1-3, she has won 11 of her last 13 matches, including straight-set wins over #15 Amanda Johnson of Duke, #26 Candice Fuchs of William & Mary, #48 Nathalie Roels of Kentucky, #98 Karin Coetzee of Wake Forest, and #105 Kendra Strohm of Texas. She moved into the No. 1 singles position for the first time in her career at March 1 and is 8-3 at that spot. Six of her losses came to players currently ranked, including three in the top 15, with one decision in a match tiebreaker and another in a third set. In addition, she had to retire two points from victory vs. Michigan’s Michelle DaCosta.

COMEBACK CONNELLY: In nine matches in March, Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) lost the first set on five occasions, but rebounded to win each time, grabbing victories vs. Wake Forest, BYU, Arizona State, Michigan, and Purdue. In all this season, she has dropped the opening frame 18 times, but holds a 9-9 record in those matches. She is 12-2 in 2002-03 in matches that extend beyond the second set (7-2 in three-setters and 5-0 in match tiebreakers). A year ago, she was 3-11 when losing the initial set and 3-7 in matches decided in more than two sets.

THOMPSON TWINS SET TO JOIN IRISH: Notre Dame head coach Jay Louderback has announced the signing of two incoming freshmen for the 2003-04 school year. Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) and Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) have signed national letters of intent to enroll at Notre Dame next year and join the Irish tennis team in the fall. The sisters were ranked No. 1 in the USTA Girls’ 18-and-under national doubles rankings last year and both are among the top 16 high school seniors in the country in singles. The Thompsons, who helped Bishop Gorman High School to the Nevada state championship, have a number of notable juniors doubles titles in the 18s to their credit, including the 2001 Super National Winter Doubles Championship, the ’01 National Clay Court Championships and the ’02 National Grass Court Championship. Catrina Thompson is 39th in the USTA girls’ 18s singles rankings and is the 16th-highest-ranked prep senior in the United States. Christian Thompson is ranked 11th nationally in singles and is fifth among players who will enter college in the fall.

KEEPING UP WITH NOTRE DAME TENNIS: For the fastest results of Notre Dame tennis matches, call the Notre Dame sports hotline at (574) 631-3000 and choose #8. The hotline provides schedule and results information for varsity sports and serves as a supplement to the game recaps and weekly releases provided on the official athletic website at The hotline is the first medium updated with the results of each Notre Dame tennis match. In addition, media members and fans may be added to the sports information e-mail release list by contacting Bo Rottenborn at, or Chris Masters at

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