Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - June 4, 2010

Singles, doubles titles cap great season for Stanford

by Rick Eymer

On the morning of January 5 of this year, members of the Stanford women's tennis team surfing to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's official website would have discovered the Cardinal ranked No. 13 in the nation.

It turned out to be a lucky season for Stanford, which was never ranked higher than eighth during the regular season. After three years, the Cardinal returned to the top of the women's college tennis world.

Stanford made the jump to No. 1 after beating Florida, 4-3, in the NCAA national championship at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga., 10 days ago.

"We have grown tremendously throughout the year," Cardinal coach Lele Forood said. "This is a team that keeps playing and fighting for each other. We just keep finding a way. These three years have been a huge drought for us. We just haven't had the right combination of factors in previous years and we were searching for the formula. It's very important for us to get back on the map where this program has been. We are back now."

Stanford's timing proves advantageous: next year's NCAA men's and women's national championships will be held on campus at the Taube Tennis Center.

Not only will the women try to defend their title on a court where they've been unbeatable for the better part of 11 years, but the men's singles champion (sophomore Bradley Klahn) and half the women's doubles champion (junior Hilary Barte, who partnered with senior Lindsay Burdette) return.

The three-year drought between team titles is only the second-longest in school history. After winning six straight NCAA titles ending in 1991, Stanford went five years without a title.

In many ways, this year's title was the most unexpected. It wasn't for lack of talent either but the overabundance of talent across the country.

At one point in the season, Forood wondered out loud just how the ITA team rankings worked. A six-match winning streak, which eventually stretched into its current 19-match streak, resulted in a drop in the national rankings while two of the teams Stanford defeated moved up.

The rankings mattered too, as the NCAA selection committee used them to establish seeding in the national tournament. In the end, the Cardinal made a shambles of the rankings, proving it's not where you're ranked during the season that counts, but where you are at the end.

Klahn also used '13' as his lucky number. That's where he was ranked at the beginning of the NCAA singles tournament. His title was not as much of a surprise, as he was a 9-16 seed. He beat unseeded (and 19th-ranked Austen Childs, 6-1, 6-2, of Louisville to win the title.

"It is hard to put this moment into words," Klahn said afterward. "I just came out and tried to block out those thoughts. Once we started playing, I was able to loosen up."

Klahn beat two top-five players along the way, and all six of his opponents were from different countries -- off in the distance, the chant U-S-A is heard -- Belarus, Serbia, Spain, Germany, Brazil and New Zealand.

Barte ("We played up to our potential," she said) and Burdette were no surprise either. They were the national runners-up last year and held the No. 2 national ranking all season. All they had to do was beat Tennessee's season-long top-ranked duo Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey 7-5, 4-6, 6-0, in the championship.

"The best team doesn't always win," Stanford assistant coach Frankie Brennan said. "I feel like this year, the best team won."

Said Burdette: "It is really tough to be dominant all the time. It lets us know how much hard work we had to put in."

Klahn, a 9-16 seed in the NCAA singles tournament, became Stanford's (and the Pac-10's) first men's singles champion since Alex Kim won it in 2000 while leading the Cardinal men to their last team title.

"This is an incredible achievement for one of the great kids in men's tennis," Stanford coach John Whitlinger said. "Bradley worked his way through the tournament and got here the right way. He had a couple of matches early that could have gone either way. But he got hot at the right time and finished off what has been a great year."

The Stanford men should be in good shape for next year's run. In addition to Klahn, junior Alex Clayton, a top player when he's healthy, junior Greg Hirshman, sophomore Ryan Thacher, and freshmen Denis Lin and Matt Kandath also return. Richard Wire and Paul Morrissey were the only seniors.

Clayton reached the semifinals of the NCAA singles tournament as a freshman and made the quarterfinals as a sophomore.

Forood maintained developing depth in the lineup was a key to Stanford's return to the top. She felt this was the first team since 2006 where depth was a factor. And it can only get better. Lindsay Burdette was the lone senior on the roster.

This was also supposed to be the year 'The Streak' ended. Instead, Stanford takes a 164-match home winning streak into next season.

Georgia sophomore Chelsey Gullickson, who went on to win the singles title, beat Barte in the semifinals.

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