Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - April 13, 2012

A chance to move up in rankings

No. 6 Cardinal women host No. 4 USC and No. 1 UCLA

by Rick Eymer

Tennis rankings at any level are often cause for a little head-scratching, with complicated formulas dominating discussions. Most coaches say these things tend to be ignored in the big scheme of things.

The Stanford women's team, undefeated at 15-0 (6-0 in the Pac-12), are currently ranked sixth in the nation. No big deal? Well, those ITA rankings are used to help determine seeding for the NCAA team championships and that can affect where a team is placed.

The Cardinal men's team faces a different scenario. Although No. 11 Stanford (4-0, 14-5) is unbeaten in conference, traveling to Los Angeles presents a formidable challenge. Stanford goes to No. 6 UCLA for a Friday match and to top-ranked USC on Saturday. The men already have lost to both teams at home.

The Cardinal women entered the 2010 NCAA Tournament as the eighth seed, despite one loss all season (to UCLA). Stanford won the team title.

The top-ranked Bruins (7-0, 20-0) visit Taube Family Tennis Center for a noon meeting on Saturday. UCLA certainly can make a case for being No. 1 entering the weekend, with sixth-ranked Robin Anderson, a freshman, leading the way at the top of the singles ladder.

The Bruins, who have won the doubles point in 19 of their 20 matches, won the National Indoor Team title in February, an event both Stanford and No. 2 Florida skipped to play each other, in which the Cardinal handed the Gators their only loss of the year, 5-2.

"It's because we didn't go to Team Indoors this year that we're ranked lower," said Stanford women's coach Lele Forood. "If we get some wins over the next couple of weeks, we should move up. When we're healthy, we really don't care where we're ranked."

Stanford, however, is still missing starter Kristie Ahn. She's recovering from a foot injury and will not play this weekend. Having Ahn back in the lineup will "make a major difference," Forood said.

Ahn, the reigning National Rookie of the Year, has been limited to three matches on the season.

Still, wins over No. 4 USC and No. 9 California give UCLA, off to its best start since 1987, a legitimate claim to the top spot.

The Women of Troy (7-0, 18-2) are also playing their best tennis in at least nine years. They visit Stanford at 1:30 p.m. Friday. USC's only losses have been to crosstown rival UCLA.

"USC and UCLA are both young teams, with a lot of freshmen playing, so there are some matchups we really don't know," Forood said. "They are both tough matches. We're really excited to play these two matches because it's been since early March in Berkeley we've played the top teams in our conference."

The Cardinal can put its own stamp on the rankings this weekend, weather permitting. Playing at home should help as Stanford rarely loses on its own court, having suffered two losses there in the past 17 years and only once, to California, to a conference opponent. Stanford has won 236 of its past 238 home matches dating to a setback to Texas during the 1994-95 season.

Stanford's top player, sophomore Nicole Gibbs, is currently ranked third in the Campbell/ITA Division I rankings while USC's No. 1 player, freshman ZoŽ Scandalis, is ranked 20th.

The Women of Troy have three other players ranked among the top 87, and has two doubles teams ranked in the top 51.

UCLA has one other singles player among the top 100, but two of its doubles teams are ranked among the top 11.

In addition to Gibbs, junior Mallory Burdette (No. 7), junior Stacey Tan (No. 52) and feshman Ellen Tsay (No. 57) are also among the nationally ranked players. In doubles play, two teams are ranked: Burdette-Gibbs (No. 3) and Tan-Tsay (No. 41).

Burdette (28-4) owns a 14-match winning match, while senior Veronica Li (17-6) has won 12 in a row. Gibbs (23-4) and Tsay (20-4) have each won 11 consecutive matches.

Li is the lone senior on the team.

"She has been a solid player, a four-year starter who has really helped the lineup," Forood said. "She's been invaluable. She's a talented, experienced player."

Meanwhile, Burdette, undefeated in dual meet play, also leads the way with a 15-4 mark against nationally ranked opponents, while Gibbs is 13-3 in those situations.

Tan (16-5) is 11-1 in dual meets and 10-1 at the No. 3 position. Only at Stanford can it be said that last year's national runner-up is regulated to No. 3 on the singles ladder.

Natalie Dillon and Amelia Herring have also stepped up to fill spots in the singles ladder lately. Dillon (6-5) has won five straight and all six wins have been in dual matches. Herring (3-6) has put together a two-match streak and both add depth to the Cardinal lineup.

The women's matches at Stanford this weekend are free.

On the men's side, Freshman John Morrissey (19-8) brings a 12-match winning streak into the weekend while senior Bradley Klahn (7-3) has won four straight. Freshman Robert Stineman (21-11) leads the Cardinal in overall wins.

The doubles team of Klahn and fellow senior Ryan Thacher remains undefeated on the season at 17-0. Morrissey and Stineman (8-5) have won four straight, as has Matt Kandath and Denis Lin (12-6).

Klahn was not available the last time Stanford played the two L.A. schools. The Cardinal was swept in singles play, winning only the doubles point against the Bruins.

With a healthy Klahn, Stanford hopes to make more of a statement this weekend. UCLA will be favored Friday and the Trojans, three-time defending national champions, are overwhelming favorites.

Stanford is no slouch. Four of its five losses have been to teams ranked in the top 10, and the Cardinal, 8-5 against teams in the top 50, also owns wins over then No. 7 Baylor and current No. 7 Kentucky.

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