Sports

Stanford's Tan becomes surprise NCAA singles finalist

Cardinal men and women doubles teams to play for a championship

By Rick Eymer

Palo Alto Online Sports

Stanford sophomore Stacey Tan felt fortunate just to be playing in the NCAA singles tournament. Now she'll be playing for the NCAA women's singles title.

Tan, who was 16-1 at No. 5 singles in duals, and 31-9 overall, beat Florida's Lauren Embree, 5-7, 6-3, retired, Sunday at Taube Family Tennis Center and will meet California's Jana Juricova in the finals.

The Stanford men's doubles team of Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher will also play in the finals following a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Florida's Sekou Bangoura and Alexandre Lacroix.

"This is a unique experience," Thacher said. "We get to have our friends in the stands cheering for us. It's special."

Klahn and Thacher meet the third-seeded Texas A&M team of Jeff Dadamo and Austin Krajicek for the doubles title.

We know Austin and Jeff very well," Thacher said. "We're 0-2 against them so far this year but we're hoping to turn that around. I think we are pretty similar in styles to them. We are all left-handed, we all serve pretty big and for the most part we volley pretty well. It is going to be a dog fight."

Stanford's Hilary Barte and Mallory Burdette advanced to the women's doubles final with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over California's top-seeded Mari Andersson and Jana Juricova.

The Cardinal duo meets Clemson's Josipa Bek and Keri Wong on Monday.

Both singles matches will be contested at noon, followed by both doubles matches.

Juricova, the nation's top-ranked women's' college player, beat Stanford's Nicole Gibbs, 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(2), in a match that lasted over three hours.

Tan was considered the least likely of the four Cardinal players originally entered to reach the finals.

"It was a big deal for me to make it into the tournament after not playing in it last year," Tan said. "I wanted to see how I could play with all these top players. It was like a test to see how I would do against them."

Embree, who clinched Florida's national team championship win over Stanford, was hobbled somewhat by blisters and tried to play through the pain. She was good enough to win the first set but then slowed considerably during the second set.

"The first set just went back and forth," Tan said. "At the start of the second set I wanted to start playing my game and try to work through every point. I pulled through a couple of key points and I think that was the difference."

Tan won her eighth consecutive match and improved to 13-2 against nationally-ranked opponents.

Gibbs took Juricova to the limit before the Bears' senior took control of the tiebreaker early.

"She came up with big serves in general," Gibbs said. "I don't know how you can plan for getting aced so often. I'm proud of the way I played but I'm disappointed in this match. I believe in myself and I worked my way onto the court."

Gibbs thinks Tan has a chance to win the national title.

"It's a pressure cooker and it will come down to who makes shots," Gibbs said. "I give her a shot."

Women's crew

Stanford finished second in the NCAA Championships Sunday at Lake Natoma in Gold River. The Cardinal and Brown tied with 85 points at the end of the three races, but Brown was awarded the team title because of a higher finish in the I Eight championship final.

Stanford's I Eight finished third in its final, five-hundredths of a second behind the Bears.

The II Eight captured the NCAA gold medal, its first ever, with a two and a half second victory in its championship final. The Cardinal Four took sixth in the first championship final of the day.

In the day's finale, the I Eight championship final, Stanford found itself in sixth position after the opening 500 meters, despite being just a second and a half off of Princeton's pace.

The Cardinal moved its way up the pack, getting into fourth position at the halfway mark, and remaining there heading into the final 500 meters, again just a second and a half off of Princeton's pace and just over a half-second behind Brown.

California, which led the team standings with 44 points heading into the I Eight final, faded in the final 500 meters, dropping from second to fourth, while Stanford and Brown slugged it out with Princeton in the top three. While Princeton would hold on to capture the I Eight gold, Stanford's final charge to overtake Brown fell short.

Stanford's II Eight, after being nipped at the line and settling for silver at last year's event, made sure there would not be a repeat in 2011, using a final surge over the last quarter of the race to out-distance Brown and capture gold. The Cardinal jumped out to a three-second lead after the opening 500 meters, but had its advantage cut to just under a second by Brown at the 1,000-meter mark.

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