Sports


Yet another comeback nets Stanford women an NCAA title

 

Doubles-point deficits. Gutsy individual efforts. Three-set clinchers. Heart-stopping comebacks. "Upsets" of higher seeds.

At the end of the day, was anyone really surprised?

Definitely not No. 15 Stanford, which once again made a mockery of the bracket en route to claiming its 18th NCAA championship, transforming a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory over No. 12 Oklahoma State on Tuesday afternoon in steamy Tulsa, Okla.

It does feel a little odd for 19-time national champion Stanford (18 NCAA, 1 AIAW), long regarded as the gold standard in women's college tennis, to be celebrating such success as an underdog.

But, really, how can it not? Entering the postseason two weeks ago as a No. 15 seed despite winning the Pac-12 and knocking off the likes of Florida and Cal in the regular season, Stanford (20-5, 9-1 Pac-12) just ripped through a postseason gauntlet of high seeds in No. 2 Florida, No. 10 Michigan, No. 6 Vanderbilt and No. 12 Oklahoma State.

Hoisting the hardware for the first time since 2013, Stanford has now won 14 of its past 16 NCAA matches when seeded lower than its opponent, a streak that covers six years. That includes winning it all as a No. 12 seed three years ago -- at the time the lowest-seeded team to accomplish the feat -- and taking home the crown in 2010 as a No. 8 seed.

Tuesday's upset of first-time finalist and up-and-coming Oklahoma State (29-5, 9-0 Big 12), supported by approximately 700 rowdy, orange-clad fans making the short drive from Stillwater, didn't come easy.

But just like seemingly every other NCAA match over the past two weeks, one thing was certain: the Cardinal refused to quit until the final match was decided. And every time a match was decided, it was ultimately in Stanford's favor.

The immediate hurdle was losing the doubles point rather convincingly and falling behind 1-0 for the fourth time in five matches.

But given Oklahoma State's dominance in that area -- the Cowgirls boast three ranked duos and lost doubles only once this season -- Stanford wasn't completely caught off guard. In fact, when head coach Lele Forood was asked in the press conference how she game-planned for the deficit, she responded with a matter-of-fact response.

"OK, that doesn't matter," she said. "Let's go get some singles."

The Cardinal would get the four it needed.

Capping what will go down as one of the most clutch careers in program history, senior Krista Hardebeck defeated Kelsey Laurente 6-4, 6-4 at the No. 4 position to make it 1-1.

It was the 99th career victory and final match for Hardebeck, who leaves The Farm with two NCAA titles after playing a key role in the 2013 championship.

Oklahoma State moved back in front 2-1 on the strength of Katrina Adamovic's 6-4, 7-5 victory over junior Carol Zhao at the top spot of the lineup.

Zhao, last year's NCAA Singles runner-up and three-time All-American, joined Stanford's lineup full-time in late March after missing much of the season while she trained with the Canadian National Team and competed in professional tournaments.

In what was likely her final college match, Zhao was unable to force a third set and suffered only her 16th loss in 92 career matches.

The Cowgirls' lead swelled to 3-1 following Viktoriya Lushkova's 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 triumph over junior Caroline Doyle at the No. 3 position. At that point, the Cardinal was in serious trouble, needing to convert each of the remaining three matches.

However, Stanford was building momentum, particularly with its freshmen on the back courts. Despite both losing their first sets, Caroline Lampl and Melissa Lord prevailed in three-setters, knotting the match at 3-3.

Notching her team-high 30th win of the season while improving to 11-4 in three-setters, Lampl surged past Katarina Stresnakova 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 at the No. 5 spot.

Booking her 25th victory of the year and completing a perfect postseason, Lord outlasted Carla Tur Mari 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-2 on court six. Indicative of Stanford's "next player up" success, Lampl and Lord combined for an 11-0 record in their NCAA debuts.

That left everything riding on junior Taylor Davidson, who could have understandably caved in after playing four consecutive three-setters, two of which were dramatic clinchers against Texas A&M and Florida.

Requiring a uniform change in the second set after drenching her first outfit in sweat, Davidson fought through cramps and fatigue to force a third frame.

Davidson built a 5-2 cushion in the third set before Babic won three games in a row. But the Cardinal's No. 2 player, who spent the early part of the season playing No. 1 in Zhao's absence, settled down and once again provided the clincher on her biggest stage as the dogpile ensued.

Davidson tweeted, "My dreams just became reality. We are the 2016 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!!!! Nothing compares to this feeling. Nothing. Number 15? No. Number 1."

Stanford now owns a 142-18 all-time record in the postseason since the NCAA Tournament went to its present format in 1982.

— Brian Risso/Stanford Athletics

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Joel
a resident of Barron Park
on May 25, 2016 at 4:16 pm

As a Red coat who has watch this fantastic team all year round; Very believable from the start. They are excellent players that do not give up due to a great coaching staff. They believe in themselves and proved it all year round
Thank you for another great season.
Joel Davidson


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