By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
No matter who plays at the top of the singles ladder next year, she will have earned it. The Stanford women's tennis team will not be lacking talented players.
Case in point: Sophomore Stacey Tan reached the championship match of the NCAA singles tournament and she normally played at No. 5 singles, with some appearances at No. 4.
Tan, who won 11 of the 13 three-set matches in which she was involved this year, was as unlikely an NCAA finalist as, say, Hilary Barte claiming the No. 1 spot as a freshman.
Tan lost in the finals to California's top-ranked Jana Juricova, 6-0, 7-6 (7-2), but it was an experience she can use when the Cardinal venture forward.
"I loved the energy and the support," Tan said afterward. "College tennis is such a different atmosphere than junior tennis."
Tan became the lowest ranked (No. 43) player to reach the championship final since 1998, when No. 51 Ania Bleszynski of Stanford lost to Duke's Vanessa Webb 6-3, 6-4. She was the 10th unseeded player to reach the final in the 30-year history of the event.
"It's been a long week. Each match is really tough," Tan said. "It's just tiring and exhausting and taking it one day at a time really does help, especially knowing that you put 100 percent of what you have out there every day, doing what you can to recover from the match and getting ready for the next day."
Tan won over 76 percent of her matches (32-10) this season, and had an 81 percent success rate (13-3) against nationally-ranked opponents. Barte had similar numbers as a freshman.
Barte and sophomore Mallory Burdette (who played at No. 2 singles) are the NCAA doubles champions after beating Clemson's Josipa Bek and Kari Wong, 7-6 (8-6), 6-0, in the finals.
It was a fitting climax for Barte, who also won the doubles title last year with Mallory's older sister, Lindsay Burdette.
"I couldn't be happier to leave on top," said Barte, who will play professional tennis during the summer and then plans to go abroad in the fall to finish her degree. "To go out on top in my last match in a Stanford uniform; I couldn't write a better script."
Barte and Burdette, who won their final 15 doubles matches in succession, became Stanford's 14th doubles titlists, and the seventh since the since the NCAA adopted its current format in 1982. The duo won 30 of their 36 matches and was 19-5 against ranked opponents.
"This is great," Burdette said. "After losing the deciding match it's like nothing worse could happen. I'm convinced it's about how much hard work you put in."
Freshman Nicole Gibbs is another candidate for the top spot in singles. She reached the semifinals of the singles tournament, beating Barte in the quarterfinals to do so. Gibbs took Juricova to a third-set tiebreaker before losing.
"I'm excited about the way I performed this week," Gibbs said. "I can see myself winning the NCAA tournament. I want to see another Stanford-Florida championship match next year. We have the means to get there and the means to win it. We will be equally as solid."
"There are so many great things to come in the future," she said. "I can't wait to be in Athens next year cheering them on."
Freshman Kristie Ahn is another potential No. 1 singles player for Stanford. A sprained ankle kept her from competing at full strength during the postseason. She won the Pac-10 singles title and carried a 24-match winning streak into the tournament.
Ahn and Gibbs were both undefeated in dual-match play, with each dividing their playing time between No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 singles.
They will be joined by blue-chip prospect Ellen Tsay, a product of Monte Vista High in Danville. She is ranked sixth in the country. She is Stanford's lone recruit, though she gives Stanford the seventh-highest rated recruiting class in the nation. Duke and USC, each with four recruits entering in the fall, are ranked 1-2.