Ranked No. 5 in the latest edition of the ITA national poll, Stanford opens its dual match season on Thursday, Jan. 31, hosting UC Davis at 3 p.m. Stanford finished 21-2 overall last year and earned a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title at 9-1. However, the Cardinal's bid for a third straight NCAA final appearance was halted by a quarterfinal loss to USC, representing only the fourth defeat over the last three years combined.
THREE STORYLINES TO KEEP IN MIND
Always In The NCAA Title Mix
Consider this: Stanford's NCAA quarterfinal loss to USC last season was only its fourth defeat over the last three years combined. The most storied program in women's college tennis, Stanford once again figures to be in position to make a run at its 17th NCAA team title. However, so is the rest of the Pac-12, and that's the challenge. The latest edition of the national rankings feature four Pac-12 squads among the top-10, led by NCAA runner-up UCLA (2), USC (4) and California (7).
Forood says: "I think our conference may even be better than last year. For our team, I think we're learning as a group right now. We're learning who we are and what it's going to take. We have plenty of people who have competed at a high level, including two seniors, two juniors and one sophomore. We have experience and right now, we are just kind of evolving as a group to figure out what it's going to take to be successful."
Firepower At The Top
Stanford's biggest strength through the years has been its trademark depth. The Cardinal has made annual runs at the NCAA title thanks to superior depth up and down its lineup. How will Stanford respond to the departure of two-time NCAA doubles champion and three-time All-American Mallory Burdette, who decided to forego her senior year and turn pro? Junior Nicole Gibbs is back though, and that's a problem for opponents. Gibbs, who didn't compete in the fall due to injury and is therefore unranked, captured both the NCAA singles and doubles titles last year and should retain that No. 1 singles ranking very soon. Over her first two seasons, Gibbs is 87-11 overall, 48-2 in duals and 50-8 against nationally-ranked opponents.
Forood says: "We'll be strong again at the top of the lineup, led by Nicole. She will see a lot of quality competition in this conference, but when at the top of her game, nobody is better. In doubles, we're going to start her off with Kristie (Ahn)."
Hardebeck Gives Card Another Weapon
Highly-touted freshman Krista Hardebeck will team with Gibbs to form one of the nation's best 1-2 punches at the top of the lineup. All Hardebeck did in the fall was compile a 14-3 overall record while capturing the ITA Northwest Regional Championships crown in October. Currently ranked No. 2 in the country, Hardebeck did most of her damage against the nation's top players, winning three matches against top-25 foes. The rest of the lineup will be filled out with junior Kristie Ahn, senior Stacey Tan and sophomore Ellen Tsay, with all of those players expected to maintain a national ranking at some point this year.
Forood says: "Krista is just a quality player and very experienced for a freshman. Obviously, she had a very good fall and that's why she is ranked No. 2 right now. Krista is very business-like in the way she approaches a tournament, and I expect that to carry over into her match play and duals. We really see her being a very important asset for us."
THREE MATCHES THAT WILL MATTER
This year's regular-season schedule includes 11 home matches to be played at Taube Family Tennis Stadium, the return contest of a home-and-home series with Florida in Gainesville and a March 10 non-conference home tilt against Texas. This year's NCAA Championships will be held May 16-27 in Urbana, Ill., hosted by the University of Illinois.
Plenty on the line here, as Stanford and Florida continue their home-and-home series. Three years ago, Stanford edged Florida in Athens, Ga., to claim the national championship. The teams squared off again in the 2011 NCAA title match, with the Gators claiming the hardware and snapping the Cardinal's NCAA-record 184-match home winning streak. In the first regular-season matchup of the home-and-home series, Stanford knocked off Florida 5-2 last year at Taube. However, the Gators blanked UCLA to win the NCAA championship and earn final bragging rights. Stanford must not look ahead: the Cardinal also faces Clemson, a top-25 club, in Gainesville, Fla., just 24 hours earlier.
March 10 vs.
- 10 a.m. Another postseason regular, Texas visits Taube Family Tennis Stadium for a Sunday morning contest in early March. Aside from the Pac-12 schools, the Longhorns are the premier non-conference opponent on the home ledger. Stanford and Texas will be hooking up for the first time since 2010, and head coach Lele Forood feels the match is important for the Cardinal to face a different style of tennis. The 10 a.m. start is definitely an early one, representing the first part of a doubleheader as the men's squad hosts Boise State at 1 p.m.
March 29-30 vs.
- 1:30 p.m./
12 p.m. Ok, so no reason to single out a specific match during this particular weekend in March when Stanford makes its only appearance against the Southern California schools. Both of these programs figure to be ranked within the top-10 at the time of the match and these contests will pivotal for the conference crown. USC eliminated Stanford from postseason play last year in the quarterfinals while UCLA is coming off a runner-up finish after falling to Florida 4-0 in the national final. Therefore, these figure to be hotly-contested matches down the stretch.
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FOUR WHO WILL MAKE AN IMPACT
Junior Kristie Ahn
2011-12: Produced a 2-1 record, playing in only three dual matches ... missed majority of season while battling injuries ... returned from a two-month layoff to participate in Stanford's NCAA Championships quarterfinal match against USC on May 19, competing at No. 3 doubles and nearly pulling off a three-set win at No. 4 singles before her match was abandoned ... teamed with Veronica Li in doubles to post a 7-1 record in eight duals earlier in the season..
Forood says: "Kristie played well at NCTC Classic, picking up wins over USC's Zoe Scandalis and UCLA's Skylar Morton. She's playing very good tennis and getting to the point where she is physically peaking again. Kristie is probably working the hardest of anyone on this team in practice. It's obvious she really wants to compete at a high level again."
Junior Nicole Gibbs
2011-12: All-American in singles and doubles ... Honda Sports Award recipient for women's tennis ... ITA National Player of the Year ... NCAA Singles and Doubles champion, becoming only the third player in NCAA history to capture both titles in the same season ... Pac-12 Player of the Year ... All-Pac-12 First Team selection ... finished 41-5 overall and 21-2 in duals, playing all her matches at the No. 1 spot ... earned a final No. 1 national ranking.
Forood says: "Nicole has proven she can do everything at the college level. Now, we're just looking for some leadership and consistency at the top of the lineup, as she continues to refine her game. And she will definitely get some good practice with the players in this conference."
Senior Stacey Tan
2011-12: All-Pac-12 Second Team selection ... earned a final No. 28 national singles ranking ... finished 25-8 overall and 16-3 in duals ... competed mainly at the No. 3 spot, chalking up a 15-3 record ... provided the clincher in a team-best eight matches ... in doubles, was 24-5 overall ... playing primarily with Ellen Tsay as Stanford's No. 2 team, the duo was 23-3 overall and 18-1 in duals.
Forood says: "Stacey is a big key for us. She's a senior who has played in some pressure-filled matches and enjoyed success pretty much anywhere throughout the lineup. I'm not exactly sure where she will open the season. Stacey might be a little behind in her prep, but she is working hard and her tennis is starting to look good again."
Sophomore Ellen Tsay
2011-12: Finished 24-8 overall and 17-4 in duals ... earned a final No. 74 national singles ranking ... 8-2 against conference opponents ... provided the clinching point in five matches ... played most of her matches at the No. 4 spot, compiling a 14-2 record ... in doubles, was 25-5 overall ... playing primarily with Stacey Tan as Stanford's No. 2 team, the duo finished 23-3 overall, 18-1 in duals and earned a final No. 30 national ranking.
Forood says: "We've seen a lot of improvement from Ellen lately, not to mention a really good tournament recently at the Freeman Memorial Invitational. We're trying to get Ellen to do a few more things, and not be one-dimensional as a player. It's all about working her points more and looking for opportunities without rushing things."
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- Brian Risso, Athletics Communications/Media Relations