May 8, 2013
No. 40 Stanford Cardinal (12-11, 3-4 Pac-12)
- vs. -
No. 20 LSU Tigers (15-11, 5-9 SEC)
NCAA Men's Tennis Championships - First Round
Friday, May 10 - 10 a.m.
Ralph-Straus Tennis Center - Malibu, CA
Weather Forecast: 69 degrees, partly cloudy with light breeze
STANFORD, Calif.- Stanford (12-11, 3-4 Pac-12) will be making its 35th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance when first round competition gets underway this weekend.
Checking in at No. 40 in the latest edition of the national rankings, Stanford will open postseason play away from The Farm for the first time since 2008. The Cardinal will face No. 20 LSU in Malibu, Calif., on Friday at 10 a.m., with No. 12 Pepperdine hosting UC Santa Barbara at 1 p.m. The winners meet Saturday at 1 p.m.
Stanford owns a 103-18 record in the postseason since the NCAA Tournament went to its present format in 1977, participating in all but four tournaments. During that time, Stanford has won 15 NCAA team titles, with the most recent crown coming back in 2000 after defeating VCU 4-0. The Cardinal reached the NCAA quarterfinals last year for the second straight season, falling to second-seeded Virginia 4-0.
With that said, here are five storylines heading into this weekend's competition:
| Tourney Ticket Gets Punched
Teams that enter the postseason with a 12-11 record generally don't earn many style points in the process. That's OK with head coach John Whitlinger, whose tight-knit squad battles until the end and has improved tremendously since January. Nothing has come easy for the Cardinal, which was awarded an at-large NCAA Tournament bid and had to scrape until the final weekend to ensure it would not miss the postseason for only the fourth time in school history. But that 12-11 record is also a bit misleading. Stanford, which closed the year winning four of its last six matches, navigated through a brutal schedule featuring eight opponents ranked among the top-20. The Cardinal also finished fourth in one of the nation's most difficult conferences. Plus, three of Stanford's last four losses resulted in competitive 4-3 nail-biters.
| Quick Glance At The Field
At first check, LSU (15-12, 5-9 SEC) appears very similar to Stanford: a tradition-rich, high-major program with a record slightly over .500 but under that mark in conference play. The difference? A No. 20 national ranking resulting from signature victories over Florida, Mississippi, Texas A&M and Tennessee. A true head-scratcher, considering only two of LSU's singles regulars sport winning overall records. Pepperdine (24-5, 8-0 WCC) won the WCC Tournament and is making its 33rd NCAA Tournament appearance. The Waves edged the short-handed Cardinal 4-3 on April 10, so there's reason for optimism if a rematch presents itself. UC Santa Barbara (12-13, 5-4 Big West) produced three upset victories over a span of four days to snag the conference's automatic bid.
| Lineup Offers Many Options, Matchups
Whitlinger has mastered the art of mixing and matching lineup combinations this year, mostly because of key losses to graduation (All-Americans Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher) or injury (senior regular Matt Kandath). As a result, 10 different players have competed in at least one singles match and one doubles contest during the dual season. Somehow, it's all worked out, and a relatively inexperienced lineup that routinely features three freshmen, two sophomores and one junior has gained valuable experience. Now there is a possibility that Kandath, who hasn't played in three months, could be available for this weekend. Two years ago during Stanford's NCAA quarterfinal showing, Kandath posted key victories at the No. 5 spot against Texas A&M and Virginia.
| Morrissey Embraces The No. 1 Spot
Sophomore John Morrissey played the bulk of his matches at the No. 4 spot in 2011-12, wrapping up his freshman year at 23-11 overall and 19-6 in duals. One year later, Morrissey finds himself three spots higher in the lineup. The even-keel Morrissey has handled the responsibility of playing No. 1 very well, sharing the team lead of 21 victories with freshman Trey Strobel. Morrissey is the only Cardinal player with a national singles ranking (No. 50) and he's been awarded a spot in the NCAA singles field of 64. Morrissey kicked off the year by reaching the round of 32 at the ITA All-American Championships and he has six victories over nationally-ranked opponents to his credit. That's good, because he's going to be facing plenty of big dogs during Stanford's tournament run.
| Doubles Has Been A Strength
It's sometimes a mystery where the singles victories are coming from but Stanford has generally been very solid in doubles. The Cardinal has captured the doubles point in 16 of its 23 matches this year and in most cases, that 1-0 lead has been the difference. One reason for the success has been consistency within the lineup. The No. 1 spot has been anchored by Trey Strobel (8-3 overall, 6-1 duals) or the junior tandem of Jamin Ball and Daniel Ho (10-3 overall, 8-2 duals).