Stanford's improbable season ends with NCAA tennis title
All year long, Stanford women's tennis coach Lele Forood kept insisting her team was getting better, and had more depth than in the previous two or three years. The Stanford players chiseled her confidence in them in stone.
In a year where many people felt the Cardinal wasn't even the best team in the conference, Forood and her determined group went out day after day to play the game as hard and as well as they could.
This was also supposed to be the year 'The Streak' ended. Instead, Stanford takes a 164-match home winning streak into next season.
On Tuesday, eighth-ranked Stanford (26-1) fulfilled its commitment, winning the national championship with an improbable 4-3 victory over third-ranked Florida at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
Despite losing the doubles point for the second straight afternoon, and the third time all season, the Cardinal prevailed.
Despite its top player, Hilary Barte, getting beat at the top of the ladder, Stanford survived and conquered.
"There were so many twists and turns in this match," Forood said. "It was a roller-coaster. I thought we had the win if Mallory could close out her second set. This was just an epic performance by our entire team and I am extremely proud. We have grown tremendously throughout the year and this is a team that keeps playing and fighting for each other. We just keep finding a way."
The depth at the bottom of the singles ladder, and the suddenly revitalized play of Stanford's lone senior in Lindsay Burdette, was enough to achieve perhaps the most unlikely of Stanford's 16 NCAA women's tennis titles.
Two freshmen — Mallory Burdette at No. 3 singles and Stacey Tan at No. 4 singles — and sophomore Veronica Li provided critical, thrilling and winning matches.
While it was Mallory's first try at the national title, it was Lindsay's last chance. The eldest Burdette, Erin, has her championships. That the final four matches were played in their home state was an added bonus.
"Mallory came into this year with the desire that she could help us do this. We have always dreamed of this," Lindsay said. "The most special part for me was staying calm for her and encouraging her through those final games. I was trying to do that, because that's what Erin does for us to this day."
Mallory Burdette clinched it with a dramatic 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 victory. She broke her opponent to go up 6-5 and served for the title, Stanford's first since 2006.
Burdette was up 40-love, but lost the next two points before serving out for the long-awaited championship.
"When I was attacking, she was coming up with great passing shots," Mallory said. "I had to just play the point at hand and fight my nerves. My stomach was up here in my neck. It really has not sunk in yet."
Stanford ends the season with a 19-match winning streak, dating to its lone loss at UCLA on Feb. 26.
Lindsay Burdette won her match, 6-3, 6-3; Tan won, 6-2, 6-2, and Li won, 6-3, 7-5, to give Stanford a 3-2 lead.
Stanford junior Carolyn McVeigh was in the process of losing her No. 5 singles match, 5-7, 6-4, 6-0, and that left it up to Mallory Burdette to produce the clinching point.
"That was probably one of the better matches I've been involved with in a match of this magnitude," Florida coach Roland Thornqvist said. "I thought our team showed tremendous courage, heart and pride. In the end we came up short, but I was really, really proud of our effort and our play in a championship round like this. Stanford played at a high level from the beginning of the match. In the first 20 minutes of singles, balls were whipping past us left and right. For us to slow that down and use our athleticism and neutralize some of that pace was great."
The NCAA singles and doubles tournament is under way and Stanford's Bradley Klahn and Barte have advanced to the Round of 16 following victories on Thursday. Mallory Burdette, however, lost her second-round match.