URBANA, Ill.- Following a much-needed day off, No. 12 Stanford (19-4, 8-2 Pac-12) continues its postseason march on Sunday afternoon against No. 4 Georgia (24-3, 12-1 SEC) in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships.
will be attempting to notch its second straight upset, having already defeated No. 5 USC 4-3 on Friday afternoon in a five-hour marathon. At No. 12, the Cardinal is the lowest seed remaining in the eight-team field.
Long considered the gold standard in women's college tennis, Stanford
has won 16 of 31 possible NCAA team titles and captured 17 national championships overall when including the 1978 AIAW crown. The Cardinal owns a 126-16 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament.
With that said, here are a few interesting storylines heading into Sunday's match:
OK, Who Else Is Out There?
Conference matchups are usually unavoidable once the round of 16 begins, and Stanford must feel like it cleared an obvious hurdle with Friday's 4-3 win. After all, Pac-12 champion USC routed Stanford 6-1 back on March 30 and eliminated the Cardinal from last year's postseason in the quarterfinals. The pressure that comes along with playing a familiar opponent won't be there on Sunday afternoon when Stanford faces SEC regular season co-champion Georgia. That doesn't mean it will be easy. A top-10 fixture for much of the season, the Bulldogs have suffered only three losses, two of which came against No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Florida. That being said, the Cardinal has been strong outside the Pac-12 and ANY team in the draw at this point welcomes the opportunity to face a non-conference opponent.
Taking A Close Look At Georgia
When talking about household names in women's tennis, the discussion must also include Georgia. The two-time NCAA champion Bulldogs are making their 27th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and boast 67 postseason victories, ranking fourth behind Stanford, Florida and UCLA. Georgia took down No. 13 Clemson 4-2 on Friday, advancing to the quarterfinals for the 21st time in school history. Playing in the ultra-competitive SEC, Georgia will be battle-tested. However, Georgia's singles lineup also features four underclassmen, so give the experience edge to Stanford. Another sign of encouragement is that one of Georgia's three losses was a 4-1 neutral site setback against UCLA, which Stanford defeated 4-3 on March 29 in Los Angeles. Stanford and Georgia will be hooking up for the first time since a 4-0 Cardinal victory in the quarterfinals of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Talented Duo Has Sights Set Higher
Winning a 90-minute doubles point against USC proved to a be huge shot in the arm for Stanford, which has now captured the pivotal 1-0 lead in 21 of its 23 matches this year. It wouldn't have happened without an unbelievable effort at the top spot of the lineup from juniors Kristie Ahn and Nicole Gibbs. Stanford's top duo trailed 4-1, stormed back to lead 7-4, fell behind 8-7 and rebounded for a 9-8 (2) victory. More impressively, Ahn and Gibbs accomplished the feat against Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria, the nation's No. 2-ranked team that entered the match undefeated. For their next trick, Ahn and Gibbs will face Georgia's Kate Fuller and Silvia Garcia, the country's No. 1-ranked team. That's OK, because Ahn and Gibbs have won seven in a row and might just be the hottest doubles team still playing.
Gibbs Elevates Her Game In NCAA's
Sophomore Ellen Tsay is going to get all the love for clinching Friday's match against USC. And while it's not really earth-shattering news, Stanford might have received its biggest boost when Nicole Gibbs won her match at No. 1. At that point, the Cardinal owned a 2-1 lead but it looked anything but solid. The Trojans had already secured first sets on the four other courts and were quickly gaining steam. Gibbs shook off a 5-1 deficit in the first half and stormed to a 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory over the nation's No. 2-ranked player in Sabrina Santamaria, the same player who had beaten Gibbs 6-1, 6-4 two months ago. Simply put, it was a tone-setting victory by Stanford's top gun. Then again, winning big matches is what Gibbs does: the defending NCAA singles champion owns a 22-1 career record in May (covering all NCAA matches).
Five Hours Later, A Tsay Of Relief
"This is the biggest moment for me so far in my two years." That was sophomore Ellen Tsay describing Friday's 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Gabriella DeSimone that clinched Stanford's 4-3 victory. Here's hoping there are more moments to come, but Tsay certainly delivered in the clutch. It was Tsay's team-leading seventh clincher of the season and 12th of her brief career, a high total for any player. Coaches and teammates point to Tsay's even-keel personality, and she proved to be unflappable on Friday when the match was tied 3-3 and fans began swarming to her court. Tsay's 31 overall victories rank second on the team to Krista Hardebeck (32) and her 18 dual match wins trail only Kristie Ahn (19). Tsay has earned a No. 92 national ranking and that's pretty high for someone who plays the majority of her matches at No. 5.