Ranked No. 10 in the latest edition of the ITA national poll, Stanford opens its dual match season on Tuesday, Jan. 15, hosting No. Sacramento State at 1:30 p.m. Stanford advanced to the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Championships for the second straight season in 2011, finishing 20-9 overall. The Cardinal, which placed third in the Pac-12 at 5-2, reached the 20-win plateau for the fourth consecutive year, finished the year with a No. 9 national ranking and upset No. 6 Kentucky in the round of 16 at the NCAA Championships.
THREE STORYLINES TO KEEP IN MIND
The Departures Of Klahn And Thacher
It's most obvious question leading into the season: how will Stanford replace Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher? After being named ITA National Rookie of the Year, Klahn went on to earn All-America honors in both singles and doubles each of the next three seasons while capturing the 2010 NCAA singles title. A three-time All-American in doubles, Thacher won at least 20 matches every year and last season became the third player in school history to win the prestigious ITA National Arthur Ashe Jr. Award for Leadership and Sportsmanship. Klahn and Thacher formed one of the most prolific doubles teams in school history, pocketing seven titles and compiling a 113-23 career record.
Whitlinger says: "When you have two guys who have been at the top of the lineup for basically the last four years, a doubles team that's been among the best in the nation, you're talking about very big shoes to fill. Now, I know there are guys on the roster who can step up for us. I just have to see it once we get out there."
Depth Highlights Stanford's Lineup
What Stanford lacks in nationally-ranked household names, it more than makes up for with increased depth. There are plenty of experienced returning players, and head coach John Whitlinger will have no shortage of options for the singles and doubles lineups. Consider this: six different players won between 16-23 matches last year, and all but one of them (Ryan Thacher) played at least one match at three different positions in the singles lineup. John Morrissey, Stanford's only nationally-ranked singles player at No. 39, led the club in overall (23) and dual (19) victories last season. He's a likely candidate at No. 1, while Matt Kandath is the most experienced player with 61 career dual matches under his belt.
Whitlinger says: "It's probably going to be a work in progress all year long. We have a lot of guys who can play this year. We did well in the fall tournaments collectively and came away with some definite positives. Setting a lineup this year will be as tough as it's ever been, and that's a credit to the depth of this team and getting guys playing time."
Rookies Expected To Contribute
The uncertainty of the lineup should result in early-season opportunities for freshmen Nolan Paige, Maciek Romanowicz, Trey Strobel and Anthony Tsodikov. All four players are capable of filling spots in the lower half of the lineup, and possibly even moving into the upper third. Paige showed some promise in October, defeating Romanowicz to claim the Aggie Fall Invitational title and reaching the semifinals of the ITA Northwest Regional Championships. Paige also teamed with Tsodikov for a runner-up finish at the Battle in the Bay Classic. All four rookies performed well at the Aggie Fall Invitational, as Strobel teamed with Jamin Ball to capture a doubles title while Paige and Romanowicz teamed up for a doubles crown.
Whitlinger says: "I wouldn't be surprised if two, or even three, of the freshmen cracked the singles lineup. Their IQ for the game and work ethic are very good. Nolan played well at ITA Regionals and two of his wins were top-conference guys in Kyle McMorrow and Riki McLachlan. Maciek has a great attitude on the court, Trey is ranked in doubles with Jamin Ball at No. 57 and Anthony is a crafty player who I can also see stepping up and winning a match."
THREE HOME MATCHES THAT MATTER
This year's regular-season schedule features 16 home matches to be played at Taube Family Tennis Stadium, an appearance in the National Team Indoor Championships and an April 20 Senior Day match against California. This year's NCAA Championships will be held May 16-27 in Urbana, Ill., hosted by the University of Illinois.
Jan. 25 vs. Texas A&M - 2 p.m. ITA Kick-Off Weekend takes place at 15 campus sites around the country, with the winners advancing to the National Team Indoor Championships on Feb. 15-18 in Seattle, Wash. Anyone Stanford faces in this tournament will likely be a top-20 opponent. But the Cardinal must get there first, and that's not going to be easy. Stanford's pod is arguably the toughest in the draw, hosting No. 26 Texas A&M and the winner of that match battling No. 27 San Diego or No. 29 Texas Tech. So, the Cardinal will have the benefit of playing at home, but the competition will be difficult. Stanford last captured the hardware at this tournament in 2002 with a 4-3 win over Illinois.
March 29 vs. USC - 1:30 p.m. It's always a highly-anticipated weekend when the Southern California schools pay a visit to Taube Family Tennis Stadium. This year's LA weekend opens with four-time defending NCAA champion USC and concludes the following day with a 12 p.m. dual against UCLA. Stanford and USC faced off three times last year, with the Trojans completing a sweep while not surrendering a single point. That being said, Stanford was right on USC's heels two years ago. In 2011, the Cardinal finished second behind the Trojans in the conference race and even notched a neutral-site win over USC at the National Team Indoor Championships when the SoCal rivals were ranked No. 2.
Apr. 10 vs. Pepperdine - 1:30 p.m. Here's a late-season non-conference dual that should carry postseason implications. 2006 NCAA champion Pepperdine, which has been a top-10 fixture and postseason regular in recent years, defeated Stanford 6-1 last year in the regular season. However, Stanford leads the all-time series 28-8 and had won the three previous meetings, including a shutout victory in the 2010 NCAA Tournament that earned the Cardinal a berth in the round of 16. These matchups are always competitive and the timing of this match screams "quality win opportunity" for the postseason resume of both clubs.