Sports

Cardinal women set for the Round of 16 at NCAA tennis

 
Emily Arbuthnott has a team-best seven clinchers. Photo by Harjanto Sumali.

It's the NCAA team tennis tournament and the Stanford women are ranked 15th in the nation with a match against top-ranked North Carolina on the horizon. The Cardinal is right where it wants to be.

All the data and all the reasonable thinking has the Tar Heels winning, especially considering the match will take place Thursday (9 a.m.) at Wake Forest, about a 90-minute drive from Chapel Hill.


Kimberly Yee/Stanford Athletics

Michaela Gordon/HS
North Carolina has one common opponent with the Cardinal. Stanford dropped a 7-0 decision to second-ranked Vanderbilt early in the season while the Tar Heels lost, 4-3.

North Carolina has also lost to No. 4 Georgia Tech and No. 3 Duke while Stanford has also lost to No. 5 Texas and No. 8 Florida.

The Tar Heels may still be feeling the sting of losing to Stanford in last year's quarterfinal and may be motivated to exact a measure of revenge.

Stanford (20-3) may lose to North Carolina and end its season as Pac-12 Conference champions, a nice accomplishment in itself.

Stanford, though, has defied conventional wisdom year after year after year. As much as North Carolina (28-3) is favored, there's still that possibility the Cardinal will slap the rankings down and move on in the tournament.

Seeded No. 15 in the postseason draw and ranked No. 15 in the latest poll, Stanford is riding a 16-match winning streak, trailing only Texas (19) as the hottest team in the country.

The Stanford-North Carolina match figures to be one of the most highly anticipated round of 16 contests.

Stanford, the winningest program in collegiate history with 19 national championships (18 NCAA, 1 AIAW) boasting a 149-19 all-time record in NCAA tournament action, must be considered a national title contender regardless of seed.

Despite being seeded higher than No. 5 only once (at No. 1 in 2011) over the last 10 years, the Cardinal has somehow produced three NCAA crowns (2010, 2013, 2016) and have reached the championship match five times in the past eight years.

In 2016, Stanford became the lowest-seeded team to win an NCAA title at No. 15, defeating No. 12 Oklahoma State in a 4-3 thriller.

Five years ago, Stanford won it all as a No. 12 seed – at the time the lowest-seeded team to accomplish the feat. In 2010, the Cardinal took home the crown as a No. 8 seed, beating top-seeded Baylor in the quarterfinal round.

Comfortable playing the role of underdog, Stanford has incredibly won 16 of its last 19 NCAA tournament matches when seeded lower than its opponent, a battle-tested stretch that dates to 2010.

The seemingly annual occurrence of the Cardinal outperforming its seed and making a mockery of the NCAA bracket has also translated into a 40-5 record during the month of May over the last eight seasons.

Stanford, though, will be facing quite possibly its biggest challenge yet since 2010. North Carolina showcases a lineup that features six ranked singles players and two ranked doubles teams.

The lineups from last year's meeting will look different on both sides, especially at the No. 1 spot, where Cardinal freshman Michaela Gordon is seeking her first NCAA win while Tar Heel sophomore Makenna Jones, who has emerged as the nation's No. 2 player, is playing four spots higher than last year when she lost the deciding match.

Stanford is coming off a pair of 4-0 shutouts in the opening rounds, blanking St. John's in the first round and Michigan in the second. It's the first time the Cardinal has opened NCAA competition with back-to-back shutouts since 2014.

Stanford's three losses came prior to the return of junior All-American Melissa Lord, who rejoined the club in late March following a shoulder injury that kept her sidelined since November.

Lord (15-4 overall, 7-1 duals) has provided a boost in her return, but Stanford's balanced singles lineup has contributed throughout the season.

All six players are nationally ranked, led by Gordon (21-8 overall, 12-7 dual), who checks in at No. 15. Emma Higuchi (26-6 overall, 18-3 dual) leads the team in victories and has won 14 in a row since losing on Feb. 24 while Emily Arbuthnott (25-7 overall, 15-2 dual) is right behind and has a team-best seven clinchers, and who clinched last year's victory over North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Caroline Lampl (18-7 overall, 12-4 dual) is battle-tested with 73 career wins while Janice Shin (22-4 overall, 13-3 dual) has quietly strung together eight straight victories.

In doubles play, Stanford boasts two nationally-ranked duos, led by the No. 3-ranked pairing of Arbuthnott and Gordon (16-5 overall, 8-4 dual).

Lampl and junior Kimberly Yee (16-3 overall, 15-2 dual) crack the list at No. 84.

Even if the Cardinal starts off slow, there is no panic. Since 2016, Stanford has won 12 of its last 17 matches when losing the doubles point.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Stanford Athletics

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