Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - April 2, 2010

Stanford women's tennis home streak will be in jeopardy

by Rick Eymer

Stanford women's tennis coach Lele Forood understands 'The Streak' has taken on a life of its own. That's all well and good, and an indication that the No. 12 Cardinal plays a mean game of tennis at Taube Tennis Center.

But forgive Forood for focusing on other things at the moment, like how Stanford (2-0, 13-1) will beat visiting No. 18 USC (3-0, 11-6) Friday in a Pac-10 Conference match at 1:30 p.m.

"That's the most important match," Forood said Wednesday. "If we don't win Friday then a lot of things are no longer in place."

Stanford has won 158 consecutive home matches, dating to a loss against California on Feb. 27, 1999. It is recognized as the longest active home winning streak of any intercollegiate sport in NCAA Division I athletics.

Perhaps even more remarkable is that the Cardinal has won 210 of its past 211 home matches, which includes all NCAA tournament matches.

During the current streak, Stanford has won six NCAA titles and reached the championship match on two other occasions.

Also during the streak, UCLA and California have reached the championship match five times, with the Bruins winning it once. Both are teams Stanford plays at home every year. This is no trifling matter.

Stanford has 30 NCAA home victories among the 158, and Taube Tennis Center hosted the NCAA championships twice (and is scheduled to host again in 2011).

When the Cardinal started its current streak, it beat five nationally-ranked programs, including California, among its first six wins. Stanford faces a difficult home schedule every season.

The Cardinal has already faced five Top 25 programs, all on the road, this season. This weekend is, by far, Stanford's biggest test. No. 7 UCLA (3-0, 16-2) follows the Women of Troy with a visit on Saturday at noon. The Bruins handed Stanford its only loss of the season, 6-1, at the end of February in Westwood.

"I know a lot of people look at how we lost at UCLA so badly and then had the rainout with USC," Forood said. "Our win at California was good and beating Arizona State was our best match of the season so far. The Pac-10 is a good conference and winning the Pac-10 title is a big deal, whether it's tennis, baseball or softball. This is a premiere conference, particularly in the spring sports."

There are six (of nine) Pac-10 teams currently ranked among the top 25, a figure matched only by the 12-member ACC.

So how do her players react to their participation in 'The Streak?'

"I'm not even sure they know about it," Forood said. "We don't talk about it. It's secondary to what we need to do to win matches this year. It's a byproduct and not the focus. The streak involves so many players (including former NCAA singles champions Laura Granville and Amber Liu) over such a long period of time that it's just not about this year's players."

Stanford has its share of talented players — five of the six singles players are ranked among the top 100 — and is always in the hunt for a national title. Junior Hilary Barte took over as the team's top singles' player in her freshman season and has maintained a stranglehold on it ever since. She's undefeated in 14 dual matches (22-3 overall) and brings a 17-match winning streak into Friday's contest.

"Her game is continually improving," Forood said. "You can see her level of play going up and it's because she's putting in a lot of extra effort to be a great player. She competes incredibly well and it shows in how much her game is progressing."

The eighth-ranked Barte faces her toughest challenge of the season too. She'll be matched against USC's Maria Sanchez, the nation's second-ranked player, and UCLA's Yasmin Schnack, ranked fourth, this weekend. She's 14-2 against nationally-ranked foes this season.

"What she does rubs off on the others simply because she's the hardest worker," Forood said. "They pick up on that notion. Not only is she talented but she's one of the hardest workers and that brings up the level of our practices. They see the connection that great players are often the hardest workers. She runs down every ball no matter where it is."

Barte and senior Lindsay Burdette, the team's No. 2 singles player, form the nation's second-ranked doubles team and they usually set the tone for a match as doubles is normally played first in a dual meet.

Forood never thought of pairing Lindsay and her younger sister, Mallory, in her freshman season at Stanford, as a doubles team despite their success together on the junior circuit. After all, Barte and Burdette (21-2 this year) were national doubles runnerups last year.

"It's really strengthened doubles play with them split up," Forood said. "They complement each other well and they get along great. The other pairings, tough, are just not there this year."

The tandem of Mallory Burdette and fellow freshman Stacey Tan has been productive. The 24th-ranked duo has won 17 of 20 doubles matches, while the third pairing of junior Carolyn McVeigh and sophomore Veronica Li have produced a 10-4 mark.

The doubles' point has been an important part of Stanford's success. There's something about taking a 1-0 lead into singles play that creates confidence. The Cardinal doubles' teams have combined for a 30-3 mark in dual meets.

The younger Burdette and Tan have solidified the middle of the singles ladder and continue to improve as they learn about winning in the college game.

McVeigh has been a steady three-year starter and gives the Cardinal a nice presence at the bottom of the ladder with Li.

Even players with limited experience own winning records at Stanford. Junior Jennifer Yen, sophomore Logan Hansen and freshman Natalie Dillon are solid enough to have combined to win 18 of 30 matches played this year. Yen is 34-19 in her career, while Hansen is 15-14.

"We're pretty deep and we're continuing to get deeper," Forood said. "This is a pretty talented team."

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