Ranked No. 41 in the latest edition of the ITA national poll, Stanford opens its men's tennis dual-match season on Tuesday against visiting Pacific at Taube Family Tennis Stadium at 1:30 p.m.
Stanford (12-12, 3-4 Pac-12) finished last year ranked No. 42 in the country while qualifying for its 35th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance. The Cardinal, which fought until the final weekend to lock up an at-large postseason berth, navigated through a grueling schedule that featured nine opponents ranked among the top-20 while finishing fourth in one of the nation's most challenging conferences.
Head coach John Whitlinger is hopeful that his youthful squad can build on the experiences from last year and continue to develop in 2014. Stanford's six-member singles lineup last spring featured five underclassmen, resulting in a crash course of what to expect at the Division I level.
This group had no choice but to grow up quickly, especially after losing All-Americans Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher to graduation. Somehow, it all worked out, primarily for the tight-knit freshman class. Nolan Paige and Maciek Romanowicz battled in the middle of the lineup, Trey Strobel was effective on the back courts and Anthony Tsodikov provided a glimpse of what he can do in limited action.
"I'm looking forward to a good second year for the sophomores," said Whitlinger. "They've all been through it once now. Our freshmen have been a little banged up and are recovering from injuries this fall."
Stanford played much of the 2012-13 campaign with a shuffled doubles lineup that was made even more unstable due to a rash of injuries. As a result, it was occasionally a mystery where the singles victories were coming from but doubles was just the opposite. The Cardinal was incredibly solid, capturing the doubles point in 17 of its 24 matches and, in most cases, that 1-0 lead provided the difference between a win and a loss.
Denis Lin and John Morrissey proved to be a capable No. 1 team. Romanowicz and Robert Stineman chalked up a team-best 16-9 record and were 8-3 at No. 2. And there were options at No. 3, with the veteran duo of Menlo School grad Jamin Ball and Daniel Ho (10-4 overall, 7-3 duals) or the freshman tandem of Paige and Strobel (8-3 overall, 4-0 duals).
"We were able to stay in matches last year because of doubles," Whitlinger said. "We worked hard at it. Denis and John started to click. Robert and Maciek were very good together. Danny and Jamin play well together and so do Trey and Nolan. Matt (Kandath) and Trey got hurt at different points and while it's unfortunate when injuries happen, it allowed the doubles to be more cohesive. So, we just sort of rolled with it.
"You try to find the right combination early. We have good doubles players. There are going to be some guys who won't play right away, but they will compete eventually."
Unlike previous seasons, last year's NCAA Tournament appearance wasn't a given. The Cardinal had to scratch, fight and claw its way to the postseason, making the eventual invite even more satisfying.
Improving tremendously since the start of the season, Stanford had to scrape until the final weekend to ensure it would not miss the NCAA Tournament for only the fourth time in school history. However, that 12-12 record was also a bit misleading. Stanford ended the regular season with a strong finishing kick, winning four of its last six matches. Three of Stanford's last four losses resulted in competitive 4-3 nail-biters.