Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 21, 2011

A chance to mirror each other's success

Stanford men's and women's tennis teams want to win the NCAA championships that they'll be hosting

by Rick Eymer

Several similarities exist between the men's and women's tennis teams at Stanford University, but there's only one thing each would love to share and that's to be the last team standing at the end of the year.

With the NCAA tournament slated for Taube Tennis Center this season, winning a national championship in front of the home crowd would be something special.

"It's always in the back of my mind," Stanford men's coach John Whitlinger said. "And I will bring it up. It's such a cool feeling. In 2006, when we beat Duke in the Round of 16 in front of a full house, it was incredible."

The Cardinal women won the national title at Stanford in 2006 and are the defending national champs heading into this season.

There's a lot to be accomplished before the big two-week event opens in mid-May and the first steps are next week.

The Stanford men enter the season ranked eighth in the nation, while the Cardinal women are No. 1, a far cry from last year's No. 13 preseason ranking. National titles do a lot for voters' perception.

The Stanford men open at home against Sacramento State at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. The women host UC Davis next Wednesday in their opener at 3 p.m.

Stanford junior Bradley Klahn is the defending NCAA singles champion and successfully defended his singles title at the Sherwood Cup last week. He also brought home the doubles crown. Senior Hilary Barte is part of the defending NCAA doubles championship team and successfully defended her title at the National Collegiate Tennis Classic.

Both teams lost an important player to graduation — Richard Wire and Lindsay Burdette — but return at least four players who won more than 20 matches each last season.

The men have three players currently ranked among the top 61 while the women have five players ranked among the top 80.

Both teams also play in one of the toughest conferences in the country. The men shared the Pac-10 title with USC and California last year. The Trojans are the defending national champs. USC enters the year ranked second, while UCLA is sixth.

The women won their 22nd Pac-10 title in 23 years last season, but their only loss was to the Bruins, who are ranked fourth entering the season. Cal is ranked 10th and claims the nation's top player in Jana Juricova.

There has been at least one Pac-10 women's team in the national championship match every year beginning with 1999.

The Cardinal women also bring the longest home winning streak (164 matches) among all sports in Division I athletics into the season.

Lele Forood has a coaching record of 259-16 (76-3 in the Pac-10) and six national titles. Her teams have gone undefeated four times and have lost two or less four other years. Whitlinger is 93-52, including 40-12 over the past two years.

The tennis programs have combined to win 32 of Stanford's 99 NCAA titles. The men own 17 of those championships and the women possess 15. The men's water polo team is third on the list with 10 NCAA titles.

Klahn (41-8 last year, 76-17 overall) heads an experienced group that also includes seniors Alex Clayton (ranked 61st in the nation), Greg Hirshman and Ted Kelly. The former top-ranked boys' 18 player is 37-10 in dual meets and has never played below the No. 2 spot. Klahn, ranked 15th, was the National Rookie of the Year in 2009. He was the Pac-10 champion as a freshman and finished second last year.

"He's really and getting better," Whitlinger said.

Clayton, bothered by injuries the past two years, was the National Rookie of the Year in 2008 and won the Pac-10 title. He's 83-33 over his first three years and has played just five of his 66 dual meets lower than the No. 2 spot. He was 22-12 last season.

"He's still not 100 percent but he's a competitor," Whitlinger said. "He's a talented player and had a good fall."

Hirshman won 25 of 33 matches last year, winning at least once at every spot on the ladder from No. 3 through No. 6.

Kelly has proven to be a valuable doubles player, with an overall mark of 34-26.

Klahn and fellow junior Ryan Thacher reached the semifinals of the NCAA doubles tournament last year and are currently ranked 16th. Thacher, ranked 41st in singles, was 26-8 last year and is 46-17 overall.

Sacred Heart Prep grad Jamie Hutter has appeared in a couple of matches for the Cardinal.

Denis Lin is the top returning sophomore, winning 19 of 28 singles matches and 24 of 34 doubles matches. He was also versatile, winning matches everywhere he played in the lineup.

Sophomore Matt Kandath adds significant depth, carrying a 16-10 singles record and an 18-11 doubles mark into the season. Kandath and Lin were 18-9 as a doubles team.

Walter Kehrer and Sam Ecker complete the sophomore class. Kehrer was a valuable doubles player last year.

Menlo School grad Jamin Ball, a freshman, has impressed Whitlinger and could find his way into the lineup at some point.

"He has things he needs to work on but I see him helping us down the road," Whitlinger said. "He's done very well and is competing for a spot in the lineup."

Fawaz Hourani and Daniel Ho complete the roster. Hourani was a member of Jordan's Davis Cup team last year. Ho was the top 14s player in China.

"The lineup is not completely set yet," Whitlinger said. "It is going to be competitive. We're hoping to build on a home court advantage as we focus on the day-to-day details."

Barte, ranked fifth, has carved out a special place in the Stanford record books, having won 63 of 69 matches played at the No. 1 position over her career. She's 3-3 elsewhere in the lineup.

"Hilary established herself as one of the top players in college tennis during her freshman year with a long, impressive win streak," Forood said. "Her game is a combination of exquisite shot-making and much more power and penetration to her strokes."

Fellow seniors Carolyn McVeigh (24-9) and Jennifer Yen add leadership qualities to the team. McVeigh has won at least 24 singles matches in each of her first three seasons and is 56-17 in dual meets. Yen is 35-20 in singles matches.

Junior Veronica Li has won several important matches for the Cardinal over the past two years and went 22-3 in dual meets last year.

Mallory Burdette, 36-5 last year, ranks 31st in the nation and forms the third-ranked doubles team with Barte. The Pac-10 Freshman of the Year recorded the clinching point in Stanford's 4-3 win over Florida in last year's NCAA championship match.

Sophomore Stacey Tan won 30 matches last year and is currently ranked 47th. She won 28 doubles matches with Burdette. Sophomore Natalie Dillon adds depth to the roster.

Newcomers Kristie Ahn and Nicole Gibbs have already shown they will be factors this season; Ahn ranks 23rd and Gibbs ranks 80th. Fellow freshmen Elizabeth Ecker and Amelia Herring give the Cardinal one of its deepest teams in recent years.

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