By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Nicole Gibbs has won her past three tennis matches, Kristie Ahn is 9-1 over her past 10 matches and both Krista Hardebeck and Ellen Tsay have won eight of their past 10 matches.
In other words, the Stanford women's tennis team is ready for a lengthy run in the NCAA Tournament, which gets underway Friday when the 12th-ranked Cardinal (16-4) hosts Mid-American Conference champion Miami of Ohio (13-12) at 2 p.m.
Rice and Pepperdine are also in the field at Stanford, with Saturday's second-round match scheduled for 1 p.m.
"We're healthy and looking forward to getting started," said Stanford women's coach Lele Forood.
On the men's side, Trey Strobel currently owns an eight-match winning streak as Stanford (12-11) travels to Malibu and a first-round match with No. 20 LSU (15-11) at Pepperdine on Friday.
It's been an interesting year for both tennis programs thus far. Four losses may not seem like much, but the Cardinal women are used to doing much better. That No. 12 ranking is also usually unheard of around the Taube Family Tennis Center.
"No. 12? We use it a little bit," Forood said. "We got behind int he rankings early and I think we do have to prove we're not the 12th-best team in the country, but we'll see. The loss to St. Mary's put us in trouble."
Stanford also lost Mallory Burdette during the fall. The former NCAA doubles champion turned professional after a successful run through the pro circuit. Forood, however, isn't sure of how the loss of Burdette affected her team.
"It's hard to say," said Forood. "There's no way to tell. Obviously, she would have been a top player so, talent-wise, we're not the same. But, we're still a pretty good team."
Gibbs (13-4 overall) played the pro circuit through the fall, as well, and may have suffered from the fatigue of travel and playing so much tennis. The defending national singles champion took time off during the Pac-12 tournament.
This is the time of the year, though, when Stanford usually steps up. The Cardinal still has plenty of talent and a possible Round-of-16 match with USC will be most telling. The Women of Troy handed Stanford its worst loss of the year, 6-1, in Los Angeles.
"It was not one of our better performances," Forood said of the loss to USC. "If we're fortunate to play them again, we'll be a lot more competitive."
Should they meet again, it would be at Illinois next weekend, where the Cardinal hopes things will be different.
Three of Stanford's losses have been to teams ranked in the top 10, and the fourth was to St. Mary's, 4-3, which is also in the field of 64. California and Florida are the other two with wins over Stanford.
The Cardinal has wins over UCLA and California in its portfolio, and has beaten Pepperdine, Texas, Arizona State and Clemson, all of which are also in the NCAA field.
Hardebeck leads Stanford with 32 wins, against six losses. She's followed by an impressive group that includes Tsay (29-8), Ahn (26-5) and Stacey Tan (20-8). Natalie Dillon (13-12) has been competitive most if the year, as well.
The men have struggled most of the year, depending on a young lineup that has been without seniors Walker Kehrer and Matt Kandath for much of the year.
Of the Cardinal 11 losses, 10 are to teams that are currently in the postseaon, including three times to UCLA and twice each to California and defending national champion USC.
Stanford has wins over four schools in the NCAA tournament: Texas Tech, BYU, Washington (twice) and Boise State.
Strobel is 21-10 overall. John Morrissey (21-13) and Nolan Paige (20-17) have also won at least 20 matches. Menlo School grad Jamin Ball is 10-7 overall.
Stanford hosts second-place Oregon State this weekend in a Pac-12 series, beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m. The series continues Saturday (2 p.m.) and concludes Sunday (1 p.m.).
The Cardinal (11-10, 26-17) can make some waves in the conference with a good showing this weekend. Stanford took two of three from Arizona State last weekend and Mark Appel earned Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week honors.
Appel (8-3, 1.56) has shown himself, again, to be one of the nation's top pitchers. He has 106 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings and has thrown four complete games. He averages 7 2/3 innings a start.
Menlo School grad Danny Diekroeger owns a .308 batting average, second on the team to Justin Ringo's .346. Diekroeger leads the team with 56 hits and is one of four players with nine doubles, second only to Wayne Taylor's 11 doubles.
Stanford gets a second chance to make a good first impression when it plays Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday at 5 p.m. (PT) at Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.
The Cardinal (13-5) opened the season with a two-goal loss to the then-ranked No. 9 Irish at home. Opening the NCAA tournament with a victory would do wonders for the program.
One of the big reasons for the tournament title was goalie Lyndsey Munoz, who made 15 saves, recording a .556 save percentage in the two games, which included a 7-6 win over Denver in the title match. The Pioneers, who had a 15-game winning streak snapped by Stanford, earned an at-large bid into the tournament.
Hanna Farr scored six goals in the conference tournament and was named the Most Outstanding Player.
Track and field
Stanford travels to the Pac-12 Championships on Saturday and Sunday at the new track at USC's Loker Stadium.
The Cardinal women are ranked No. 14 in the country by the USTFCCCA, and the men are unranked.
Stanford's women are seeking their first title since 2005 and the men their first since 2002.
Combined, the Cardinal has 20 All-Americans among the two teams, and features two returning Pac-12 women's champions 100-meter hurdler Kori Carter and javelin thrower Brianna Bain. Both hold the nation's best collegiate marks this year Carter's 54.71 in the 400 hurdles and Bain's 183-10.