By Brian Risso
Stanford Sports Information
The preliminaries are over for the Stanford men's and women's tennis teams. Now, it's time to get down to business as both head into the Round of 16 at the NCAA Men's and Women's Tennis Championships this week at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium.
Making its 33rd all-time appearance in the tournament, the Stanford men (20-5) are into the Round of 16 for the third straight season and 27th overall. Victories over Army (4-0) and Washington (4-1) in the first two rounds last weekend pushed the Cardinal to its third consecutive season with at least 20 wins.
Ranked No. 7 in the latest edition of the national ITA rankings, the Cardinal is the No. 8 overall seed in the postseason draw. It's become familiar territory for Stanford, which has been seeded either eighth or ninth in each of the last two seasons. That usually means an equally matched opponent in this round (in this year's case, No. 9 Texas A&M on Thursday at 6 p.m.) and then the daunting task of potentially facing the tournament's No. 1 seed in the quarterfinals, a stage the Cardinal hasn't reached since 2006.
If that milestone is going to be reached, playing at home should certainly help. Stanford chalked up a 15-1 record in matches played at Taube Family Tennis Stadium this year.
Perhaps more importantly, Stanford is one of the nation's hottest teams remaining in the postseason. The Cardinal has ripped off 12 straight wins, its longest winning streak since an 18-match stretch back in 2001. Then again, Stanford has made a habit in recent seasons of peaking at the right time. Stanford entered NCAA Tournament play on a seven-match winning streak last year and won five consecutive contests before the start of postseason play in 2009.
Head coach John Whitlinger genuinely feels his club can play with anyone in the country. Stanford has been competitive in its losses, which have come against NCAA round of 16 participants Baylor, Florida, Georgia and USC. But on the flipside, Stanford has also registered wins over USC, Tulsa and UCLA while sweeping California. Those are also round of 16 squads. Again, the home court may provide the extra push needed.
Last year's NCAA singles champion, Bradley Klahn, is the nation's third-ranked player and sports a team-best 31-10 overall record while going 17-7 in duals. He is 19-9 against nationally-ranked opponents. Despite some uncharacteristic struggles as of late, Ryan Thacher is a solid No. 2 and capable of hitting a hot streak. Alex Clayton is 8-1 over his past 10 matches at the No. 3 spot and if he continues to show the form that resulted in two All-American seasons as a freshman and sophomore, Stanford becomes extremely dangerous.
Klahn and Thacher comprise Stanford's top doubles team, ranked third in the country with a 39-5 overall record and 19-1 dual match mark. This experienced duo reached last year's NCAA doubles semifinals and has a legitimate shot at winning this year's individual title. Sophomores Matt Kandath and Denis Lin have been steady at No. 2 while the No. 3 position has recently featured Clayton and freshman Jamin Ball from nearby Menlo School.
Texas A&M (29-5) finished second in the Big 12 this year and has won six in a row entering Thursday's match. The Aggies also boast some firepower, with three nationally-ranked singles players and the country's No. 4 doubles team of Austin Krajicek and Jeff Dadamo.
The top-ranked Stanford women (25-0) are making their 30th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The Cardinal's next step in defending its 2010 NCAA title takes place on Friday night against Northwestern in the Round of 16 at 6 p.m.
Stanford has been awarded the No. 1 overall seed in the postseason despite being ranked No. 2 in the latest edition of the national ITA rankings behind Florida. A curious spot considering the Cardinal defeated the Gators 4-2 to claim the National Team Indoor Championships crown back on Feb. 21.
However, there is essentially no argument that Stanford has been the best team in the country to date. The Cardinal is the only unbeaten team in Division I and has won 44 consecutive contests overall dating back to its last loss, a 6-1 setback at UCLA on Feb. 26, 2010.
Last weekend's victories over Illinois-Chicago (4-0) and Pepperdine (4-0) were the latest victims in Stanford's eye-popping streak at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium. With those wins, Stanford extended its NCAA-record home winning streak to an unthinkable 181 matches (147 regular season, 34 NCAA Tournament). The Cardinal has not lost a dual on its home court since Feb. 27, 1999, when No. 4 California pulled a 5-4 upset. Simply put, playing on its home court should provide a decisive advantage.
And it's not the Cardinal hasn't been tested. Playing in the ultra-competitive Pac-10, Stanford owns sweeps over fellow NCAA round of 16 participants California and UCLA while breezing past nationally-ranked foes Arkansas, Michigan and North Carolina back in February before taking down Florida.
Head coach Lele Forood's career record currently stands at a gaudy 284-16. She oversees the most successful program in NCAA history, as Stanford has captured 17 team titles (16 NCAA, 1 AIAW).
Forood's lineup is loaded with depth. Three-time All-American senior Hilary Barte, ranked No. 3 in the country, is 27-5 overall and 16-4 in duals while playing at the No. 1 spot. Perhaps she hasn't enjoyed the dominance of previous seasons, but it would be foolish to dismiss a talented senior playing her final matches at home.
Mallory Burdette is a quality No. 2, posting a 23-7 record at that spot. All she did as a freshman last year was clinch Stanford's national championship in a tough three-setter.
Freshmen Nicole Gibbs and Kristie Ahn are a combined 75-8 overall and 42-0 in duals while alternating at the Nos. 3 and 4 positions. Talented enough to play No. 1 or 2 for any other team, the rookie duo has steamrolled opponents this year and now must be included in the conversation when talking about the nation's top-20 players. Ahn did not play last weekend in Stanford's victories while rehabbing an injury, but she is expected to return for upcoming action.
Playing together for the first time, Barte and Burdette make up the nation's No. 3 doubles team at 22-6 overall and 14-3 in duals. Ahn and Gibbs form the No. 2 squad while Carolyn McVeigh and Stacey Tan have notched a 12-2 dual-match record playing at No. 3. McVeigh and Tan were key contributors during last year's title run, so that's an experienced team playing on Court 3.
The tournament's No. 16 seed overall, Northwestern (22-7, 9-1 Big Ten) is appearing in the Round of 16 for the 11th time in 12 years. Winners of six straight, the Wildcats are led by the nation's 10th-ranked singles player in Maria Mosolova and the 11th-ranked doubles team of Linda Abu Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton.
NCAA TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Taube Family Tennis Center, Stanford
Men's Team Round of 16
9 a.m. -- Taube South - No. 6 Georgia vs. No. 11 Duke
9 a.m. -- Taube Stadium - No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 14 California
12 p.m. -- Taube South - No. 7 Florida vs. No. 10 Kentucky
12 p.m. -- Taube Stadium - No. 2 USC vs. No. 15 Georgia Tech
3 p.m. -- Taube South - No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 12 UCLA
3 p.m. -- Taube Stadium - No. 4 Ohio State vs. Tulsa
6 p.m. -- Taube South - No. 1 Virginia vs. Illinois
6 p.m. -- Taube Stadium - No. 8 Stanford vs. No. 9 Texas A&M
Women's Team Round of 16
9 a.m. -- Taube South - No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 Virginia
9 a.m. -- Taube Stadium - No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Georgia Tech
12 p.m. -- Taube South - No. 7 Miami vs. No. 10 Michigan
12 p.m. -- Taube Stadium - No. 2 Florida vs. No. 15 Clemson
3 p.m. -- Taube South - No. 5 Baylor vs. SMU
3 p.m. -- Taube Stadium - No. 4 North Carolina vs. Vanderbilt
6 p.m. -- Taube South - No. 8 Georgia vs. No. 9 California
6 p.m. -- Taube Stadium - No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 16 Northwestern