Carol Zhao and the Stanford women's tennis team followed a familiar script Friday. As the 14th seed, the Cardinal continued its post-season history of success.
Stanford beat third-seeded California, 4-3, in the Round of 16 at the NCAA championships in Waco, Texas to reach the Elite Eight and a match against No. 6 Georgia on Sunday.
The second-ranked Zhao clinched the match at No. 1 singles, toppling fourth-ranked Maegan Manasse, 6-2, 5-7, 6-1, in a battle of sophomores.
Stanford (18-5) won for the 10th time in 11 tournament matches as the lower seed, including a win over the Bears a year ago to the day that was also relocated due to weather.
The Cardinal owns the NCAA record for lowest seeded team to win a championship when it did so two years ago as the 12th seed.
Zhao improved to 10-1 in three-set matches and earned her 30th overall win of the year as she overwhelmed Manasse in the third set.
"In the third set, the team really pulled me through," said Zhao. "After a tough second set where I had some chances to pull ahead, I really just regrouped in the third by putting the team first and that gave me a lot of energy."
The match was delayed 3 1/2 hours due to inclement weather and finally moved indoors when another match was rescheduled for Dallas.
Cal (22-4) came into the match with all the momentum. Boasting five top-50 singles players and two top-10 doubles teams, the Golden Bears had won 10 in a row, swept the regular season series and placed second in the highly-competitive Pac-12.
Zhao also helped clinch the doubles point for the Cardinal, pairing with Taylor Davidson to beat Manasse and Denise Starr, 8-6, although the Cal duo fought from a 7-1 deficit to make it close.
Caroline Doyle and Ellen Tsay won their doubles, 8-4, to set up the clincher.
"It was good that we won the doubles point. That was pivotal for us," Stanford coach Lele Forood said. "Against a team like Cal, you absolutely have to win the doubles point, and we were really sharp at 1 and 2. So, that got us started. Then I think we all knew that if we win the doubles point, then we were going to be right in there."
The Bears recovered to take a 2-1 lead with wins on courts four and six.
Davidson and Doyle each shook off tough starts to win on courts two and three and give the Cardinal the advantage.
A three-set loss on court five tied the match, setting up Zhao's heroics.
The match was up to me and I just tried to keep a good attitude," Zhao said. "In the end, that was most important."
Stanford and California have met in back-to-back years in the NCAA tournament after not facing each other in postseason since 2003. Sophomores Davidson, Doyle and Zhao are a combined 19-8 against the Bears as Stanford improved to 136-17 all-time in NCAA tournament play.
"We rode some momentum and they were very tough," Forood said. "Maegan (Manasse) played some unreal tennis when she was down in that second set to force the third. It was just an unbelievable performance, really, especially from the top of our lineup."
Said Cal coach Amanda Augustus: "Stanford came out really aggressive in the doubles, and I think we had a good match up on court three. At courts one and two, especially at one, that doubles match was fantastic. It was really high-quality doubles that could've gone either way, but Stanford was a little more aggressive than we needed to be."