With the regular season in the books, this weekend's Pac-12 Championships in Ojai serve as the final tennis tune-up before NCAA Tournament first- and second-round action begins in two weeks at campus sites throughout the nation.
For the Stanford men, it's the fourth year of an eight-team tournament replacing the individual competition format. Meanwhile, the women's side features the traditional 32-player singles draw and 16-team doubles field.
The No. 26-ranked Cardinal men (16-5, 6-1 Pac-12) completed one of their best seasons in recent memory, clinching a share of the Pac-12 regular-season championship for the first time since 2010. Prior to a 4-3 loss to California last weekend, the Cardinal had won 10 consecutive matches, its longest winning streak since ripping off 13 straight victories in 2011.
Stanford and USC finished the regular season as co-champions, but the Cardinal has been awarded the tournament's No. 1 seed thanks to a 4-3 upset of the Trojans on April 11. As a result, Stanford will take the court on Friday at noon and face the winner of fourth-seeded California and either Oregon/Arizona (scheduled for Wednesday). It's the first time Stanford has earned a double bye since the tournament was introduced in 2012.
The Cardinal should feel confident about its NCAA Tournament chances, having also collected quality wins over California and UCLA. Stanford, which been ranked between No. 24-43 throughout the spring, already has exceeded last season's win total (14) while its five losses have come against teams ranked among the top 30.
The turnaround is even more impressive considering the Cardinal showcases a singles lineup featuring three freshmen, led by 30th-ranked Tom Fawcett's team-leading 25-9 overall record. Fellow rookie David Wilczynski (21-12 overall, 12-7 duals) and junior Nolan Paige (21-13, 10-7 duals) are close behind. Stanford's hottest player is another freshman in David Hsu, who is riding an eight-match winning streak.
Meanwhile, Stanford has won the doubles point in 11 straight matches, led by its top duo of seniors John Morrissey and Robert Stineman, ranked No. 13 nationally and having compiled a 12-3 overall record with eight consecutive wins.
The women's side of the Pac-12 Championships features a 32-player singles draw and 16-team doubles field. So, Cardinal head coach Lele Forood likely will use this week as an opportunity for some players to sharpen their games while others receive some much-needed rest.
No. 13 Stanford (15-5, 7-3 Pac-12) is coming off a 5-2 loss at California over the weekend. Playing short-handed with 20th-ranked Caroline Doyle unavailable for singles, the Cardinal suffered only its fourth loss to the Golden Bears spanning the past 13 meetings. Stanford had won six in a row entering the match.
Stanford remains in good shape for the postseason after finishing fourth in the Pac-12 while being ranked between No. 7-13 in the country throughout the season. The Cardinal has pocketed signature wins against other potential NCAA Tournament teams such as Notre Dame, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Duke, Arizona State and Pepperdine. That being said, Stanford's five losses are definitely a rarity, the most setbacks since a 19-5 finish in 2009.
Depth once again has proved to be a strength for the Cardinal this season. Five players appear in the latest edition of the national singles rankings: Carol Zhao (2), Taylor Davidson (17), Doyle (27), Ellen Tsay (100) and Krista Hardebeck (109). Each member of Stanford's sophomore trio featuring Davidson, Doyle and Zhao has notched 27 overall wins. Meanwhile, Doyle, Tsay and Zhao have all won seven matches in a row.
Stanford is represented with two nationally ranked doubles teams in Davidson/Zhao (2) and Doyle/Tsay (18). Davidson and Zhao are 25-6 overall, 13-4 in duals and were occupied the No. 1 spot in the rankings two weeks ago.