In what is quickly shaping up as the most important weekend on the Pac-12 women's tennis schedule, the Bay Area schools are scheduled to host the Southern California schools in critical dual matches.
For No. 4 Stanford, that means visits to The Farm from No. 3 UCLA (Friday, at 1:30 p.m.) and No. 13 USC (Saturday, at noon), weather permitting. No. 12 California hosts the same schools on opposite days.
All four schools enter the upcoming weekend with a 5-0 conference record, providing a golden opportunity for any team that can emerge with a sweep. Picking up valuable head-to-head tiebreakers will provide an inside track to the Pac-12 regular-season title, which has either been won outright or shared by either Stanford, UCLA or USC over the last 16 years.
So, what exactly distinguishes Stanford from this foursome? The same thing that distinguishes the Cardinal from the rest of the country -- a perfect record (13-0). It's not by accident either, as Stanford has notched eight shutouts and boasts quality victories over nationally ranked teams such as Texas, Rice, Florida, California and Arizona State.
Stanford has won 19 consecutive matches dating to last year's NCAA championship run, in which the Cardinal closed out the postseason with six wins in a row.
The stakes will be high once again this weekend, starting with a visit to Taube Family Tennis Stadium from UCLA (17-1) in a battle of top 5 teams. The Bruins' only loss came to current No. 1 Duke in the championship match of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships back in February. UCLA has blanked its past five opponents and won the doubles point in every match this year, thanks to a pair of talented duos ranked among the nation's top 5.
USC (14-4), which plays at California on Friday, enters the weekend having won five straight matches. Two of USC's four losses have come at the hands of UCLA, and the SoCal rivals are guaranteed to square off at least one more time in late April to close out the regular season. Stanford's recent battles with USC have been well-documented -- the Women of Troy have won two of the last three, but the Cardinal's only win during that stretch was an upset that sparked last year's NCAA title run.
Meanwhile, Stanford continues to trot out the nation's deepest starting lineup - one that also includes three freshmen. All six singles competitors own a national ranking: Kristie Ahn (No. 2), Taylor Davidson (27), Carol Zhao (28), Caroline Doyle (37), Krista Hardebeck (39) and Ellen Tsay (42).
Two doubles teams are ranked: Ahn/Zhao (10) and Davidson/Tsay (36).
After this weekend, Stanford has only three regular-season matches remaining before the Pac-12 Championships get underway on April 24.