Sports

Stanford tennis teams begin their NCAA title quests

 

The preliminaries are out of the way for the Stanford men's and women's tennis teams. Now, it's down to the real business of the season -- the NCAA Tournament.

While both teams have won 17 national titles, neither heads into postseason play as a contender for the NCAA title -- based on rankings, if for no other reason.

The Cardinal women are No. 14 in the country while the men are No. 23. It's safe to say no team ranked that low has captured a national crown.

Two years ago, however, the Stanford women were seeded 12th and became the lowest-seeded team to win an NCAA title as the Cardinal knocked off No. 5 USC, No. 4 Georgia and No. 1 Florida before taking down No. 3 Texas A&M in the final.

Stanford, which also captured the 2010 NCAA championship as a No. 8 seed, has won nine of its past 10 NCAA Tournament matches when seeded lower than its opponent.

Thus, anything is possible and both Stanford teams have the lineups to give it a shot.

The Cardinal women (15-5) will begin the tournament in a familiar setting: Taube Family Tennis Stadium.

Making its 34th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, Stanford will host first- and second-round competition this weekend. The Cardinal's opponent in the postseason lid-lifter is Stony Brook (15-1) on Friday at 2 p.m., following the regional's other matchup between No. 19 Pepperdine (17-6) and No. 43 Auburn (16-13 at 11 a.m.

Stony Brook, which also visited Taube Family Tennis Stadium for the first round in 2012, suffered its only loss of the season on March 6 in a 5-2 setback against Harvard. Winners of four consecutive America East championships, the Seawolves boast one nationally ranked (No. 83) doubles team.

The most storied program in women's college tennis, Stanford finished fourth in Pac-12 play while being ranked between No. 7-14 in the country throughout the season. The Cardinal has pocketed signature wins against other 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, its most setbacks since a 19-5 finish in 2009.

Sophomores Taylor Davidson, Caroline Doyle and Carol Zhao share the team lead with 27 victories apiece and hold down the top three spots of the lineup. All three have earned singles berths at NCAA Championships, with Doyle and Zhao having won their past seven matches. It's a dangerous trio that possesses significant postseason experience.

Meanwhile, senior Ellen Tsay anchors the bottom of the lineup, having compiled a 22-7 overall record. Tsay, along with juniors Krista Hardebeck and Lindsey Kostas, were members of Stanford's 2013 NCAA championship team.

The Cardinal is equally strong in doubles, boasting the nation's second-ranked duo (Davidson/Zhao) and 10th-ranked tandem (Doyle/Tsay).

Stanford owns a 133-17 all-time record in the postseason since the NCAA Tournament went to its present format in 1982.

While the women open at home, the Cardinal men (17-6) will be in Durham, N.C., squaring off against No. 41 Tennessee (14-12) on Friday morning in the first match of the regional. The winner advances to the second round and faces either unranked South Carolina State or host Duke, ranked No. 10 nationally and the tournament's No. 10 overall seed.

Making its 36th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance, Stanford is opening postseason play on the road for the third consecutive season. The Cardinal has dropped its first-round match in each of the past two seasons after back-to-back NCAA quarterfinal efforts in 2011-12.

Ranked between No. 23-43 throughout the season, Stanford completed one of its best seasons in recent memory, clinching a share of the Pac-12 regular-season championship for the first time since 2010. The Cardinal also reached the Pac-12 Tournament final for the first time in school history, falling 4-3 to USC.

In addition to its surprising Pac-12 regular-season finish, the Cardinal defeated UCLA and USC at home and owns two victories against California. Stanford's six losses have all come against teams ranked among the top-30. Outside of conference play, Stanford fell 4-1 to No. 29 South Carolina and 4-2 to No. 13 Florida back in late January, although the lineups for those matches are now completely different.

Making this year's campaign even more impressive, the Cardinal showcases a singles lineup featuring three freshmen, led by rookie and No. 26-ranked Tom Fawcett's team-leading 26-9 overall record. Also making a difference are fellow classmates David Wilczynski (21-13 overall, 12-8 duals, first player in school history to play at all six lineup positions) and David Hsu (20-8 overall, 12-4 duals, boasting a team-high 10-match winning streak).

In doubles, the duo of seniors John Morrissey and Robert Stineman is ranked No. 9 in the country, sporting a 14-3 overall record. Morrissey and Stineman have won 10 straight matches. The Cardinal has captured the doubles point in 13 straight matches.

Stanford owns a 103-20 all-time record in the postseason. The Cardinal's most recent NCAA title came in 2000.

— Stanford Athletics/Palo Alto Online Sports

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