Lele Forood and her 15th-seeded Stanford women's tennis team took another step to writing another chapter of an unlikely run to the NCAA championship.
The Cardinal topped defending national champ, and sixth-seeded Vanderbilt, 4-2, in the NCAA national semifinal round in Tulsa on Monday to advance to its 24th championship match. Stanford has won 17 of it previous 23 trips to the final.
Oklahoma State took a journey to the final similar to the one Stanford took. The Cowgirls, who have lost the doubles point once this season, knocked off the top seed, the No. 5 seed and the No. 4 seed. The Cardinal went through seeds No. 10, No. 6 and No. 2.
This year's national championship teams have made mincemeat out of the rankings system. The semifinal round featured two of the top 11 seeds, with the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds eliminated in the Round of 16.
Parity certainly plays a part, but it doesn't account for a flawed rating system that seemingly never considers strength of schedule and rewards participation in ITA-sponsored events such as The Indoor Nationals.
The Cardinal (19-5) and Oklahoma State, each conference champions, are examples of being mis-seeded. Big 12 and Pac-12 Conference teams are a combined 21-9 in the NCAA tournament, including 10-1 record in the first round. How did the best teams in those conferences wind up seeded so low?
Seeding is the furthest thing from either teams minds right now. Oklahoma State can celebrate its first ever trip to the final while Stanford seeks to become the lowest-seeded team to win a national title, a milestone currently held by Stanford, as the No. 12 seed.
The biggest reason No. 15 Stanford finds itself on the verge of an 18th NCAA championship?
At some point this season, everyone on the roster has clinched a pressure-filled match when the spotlight is on. Nobody has done it more than freshman Caroline Lampl.
Improving to 10-4 in three-setters while providing her team-high seventh clincher, Lampl outlasted Fernanda Contreras 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-3 at the No. 5 spot to propel Stanford.
Long regarded as the sport's gold standard but equally comfortable thriving as an underdog, Stanford is once again, surprisingly -- or not -- defying the odds. The Cardinal has won 13 of its last 15 NCAA matches when seeded lower than its opponent. That includes winning it all as a No. 12 seed three years ago and taking home the hardware in 2010 as a No. 8 seed.
Stanford avenged a 4-1 road loss to the Commodores on Jan. 30. Stanford stood at 1-2 overall following that loss. Hardly a pivotal juncture three matches into the season, but it represented the first time at any point in program history that the Cardinal owned a losing record, a streak spanning 1,032 matches.
Giving the Cardinal a boost was that it played the match without Lampl and junior Carol Zhao, and both made a noticeable impact on Monday.
It all started when Stanford bucked a recent trend by winning the doubles point for only the second time in seven matches. The Cardinal grabbed a 1-0 lead thanks to convincing wins at the Nos. 2 and 3 spots. Stanford is now 12-3 when winning the doubles point and 6-2 when losing the early edge.
Zhao, who missed the first meeting during her absence competing with the Canadian Fed Cup team and participating in pro tournaments, quickly made it 2-0 following a decisive, 6-4, 6-3, win over Sydney Campbell at the top spot of the lineup. Stanford is 13-1 with Zhao in the lineup and 6-4 without.
Vanderbilt crept to within 2-1 after Astra Sharma defeated Caroline Doyle, 6-4, 6-2, at the No. 3 position.
Stanford moved in front, 3-1, when freshman Melissa Lord outlasted Georgina Sellyn, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2, on court six. It was Lord's fifth straight postseason victory and her ninth win in 10 matches overall.
The Commodores trimmed the deficit to 3-2 when Courtney Colton bested senior Krista Hardebeck, 7-6 (2), 6-4 at the No. 4 spot.
Two matches remained at that point, with Lampl and junior Taylor Davidson both headed to a third set.
After falling behind 2-0, Lampl aggressively made her move. Blistering groundstrokes and overwhelming Contreras with her all-court power. She ripped off the next four games and held on for the 6-3 third-set victory.
Stanford owns a 141-18 all-time record in the postseason since the NCAA Tournament went to its present format in 1982.