May 19, 2013
URBANA, Ill.- Who needs the doubles point?
Not No. 12 Stanford, which ripped off four singles wins and received a three-set clincher from Krista Hardebeck to knock off No. 4 Georgia 4-1 on Sunday afternoon in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.
Following up its five-hour 4-3 stunner of No. 5 USC on Friday, the Cardinal (20-4, 8-2 Pac-12) won a match despite losing the doubles point for the first time since May 20, 2011.
Next up is a Monday semifinal at 3 p.m. PT - weather permitting - against No. 1 Florida (26-2, 12-1 SEC) in a match that suddenly feels more like the national championship.
It's not a total shock to see 16-time NCAA champion Stanford one step away from the national championship match. After all, the Cardinal has advanced to the semifinals for the 28th time in 32 years.
However, Stanford has become the lowest-seeded team to reach the semifinals since UCLA advanced to the title match also as a No. 12 seed back in 2007. An incredible accomplishment for a squad which lost its No. 2 player and All-American Mallory Burdette, who in September elected to forego her senior season and begin her pro career. In fact, of Stanford's current six-member singles lineup, only Nicole Gibbs and Stacey Tan had competed in (and finished) more than two NCAA Tournament matches prior to this season.
But the Cardinal has caught fire at exactly the right time, and Sunday's victory earned a rematch against powerhouse Florida, which edged Stanford 4-2 in Gainesville back on Feb. 24 in the latest chapter of what is recognized as the sport's premier rivalry.
In order for the highly-anticipated matchup to take place, Stanford had to slip by SEC co-champion Georgia, making its 27th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. That appeared doubtful early on.
Georgia (24-4, 12-1 SEC) quickly overwhelmed Stanford in doubles, controlling all three courts and securing a 1-0 lead when Lilly Kimbell and Mia King defeated Natalie Dillon and Hardebeck 8-3.
Trailing 1-0, it was Stanford's turn to ambush Georgia. Taking the lead was Kristie Ahn, who dismantled Maho Kowase 6-0, 6-1 on court two and evened the match at 1-1.
Still riding the momentum from Friday's three-set clincher, Ellen Tsay followed with a 6-1, 6-2 triumph over Ayaka Okuno on court five to give Stanford a 2-1 advantage.
Stacey Tan shook off a determined charge from Kate Fuller at the No. 4 spot, booking a 6-4, 7-5 victory in which she had to pull away late in both sets.
With Stanford up 3-1, Gibbs and Hardebeck had both built solid leads in their third sets. Hardebeck would ultimately clinch the match with a 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Silvia Garcia in a battle of highly-touted rookies at the No. 3 position. Hardebeck earned her first career postseason victory, having lost against USC on Friday after failing to finish her match in the first two rounds.
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No. 12 Stanford 4, No. 4 Georgia 1
1) No. 1 Fuller/Garcia (UGA) d. No. 8 Ahn/Gibbs (STAN) 8-5
2) No. 52 Herring/Kowase (UGA) led No. 28 Tan/Tsay (STAN) 6-4, abandoned
3) Lilly Kimbell/King (UGA) d. Dillon/Hardebeck (STAN) 8-3
Order of Finish: 1, 3
1) No. 13 Nicole Gibbs (STAN) led No. 6 Lauren Herring (UGA) 6-1, 3-6, 3-0, abandoned
2) No. 25 Kristie Ahn (STAN) d. No. 19 Maho Kowase (UGA) 6-0, 6-1
3) No. 14 Krista Hardebeck (STAN) d. No. 104 Silvia Garcia (UGA) 2-6, 6-1, 6-1
4) No. 103 Stacey Tan (STAN) d. Kate Fuller (UGA) 6-4, 7-5
5) No. 92 Ellen Tsay (STAN) d. Ayaka Okuno (UGA) 6-1, 6-2
6) Mia King (UGA) led Natalie Dillon (STAN) 6-1, 6-5, abandoned
Order of Finish: 2, 5, 4, 3
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NOTES: Stanford is 17-13 all-time against Florida. Competitive matches have been the norm between the two powerhouse programs. In 2010, Stanford edged Florida 4-3 in Athens, Ga., to claim its 16th NCAA championship. The Gators responded by winning the 2011 NCAA title 4-3, snapping the Cardinal's NCAA-record 184-match home winning streak. Stanford won 5-2 in the 2012 regular season back at Taube before Florida collected a 4-2 victory this year ... The last time Stanford won a match despite losing the doubles point was May 20, 2011, when the Cardinal defeated Northwestern 4-2 in the NCAA round of 16 at Taube Family Tennis Stadium ... Prior to today, Nicole Gibbs had not lost a set since Santa Clara's Katie Le won 6-3 in the second frame back on April 3 ... It won't show up in the agate, but credit Natalie Dillon with bouncing back in her match against Mia King. Trailing 5-1 in the second set, Dillon rattled off four straight games and battled King in a contest Georgia desperately needed ... Head coach Lele Forood's career record in 13 seasons now stands at an eye-popping 328-23.
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Stanford Head Coach Lele Forood
"We got outplayed in the doubles. They absolutely outplayed us. They were awesome and very aggressive. They made all their volleys, served well and basically did everything right. So as a group you just have to move on. I don't think we were too flustered with having to win a bunch of singles matches. We have an incredibly talented lineup, too."
"I knew Krista was due for a win. We've all been saying that. Getting her in the win column today was huge for us and for her confidence. She did a great job."
"It's going to be fun to play Florida again. We were down there in February and it was a very close match. We're looking forward to the opportunity for a rematch with them. The last three matches on 1, 3 and 5 all had to go indoors and we were into third sets on all of them. We lost two of those and that was the difference."
Stanford freshman Krista Hardebeck
"We were a little nervous because we usually don't lose the doubles point. But we had a lot of confidence in our singles. I was really excited with this being my first NCAA Tournament. It's an awesome feeling being able to clinch, and then everyone finishes so there's a big celebration."
"At the Pac-12 Championships last month I had to come back after being down in the first set during a match, so I knew it was possible. She's a really good player and was very aggressive with spin. I knew there would have to be a lot of adjustments after the first set. I tried to rally with her more and wait for my timing."
"For as long as I can remember watching Stanford tennis, it's always been a fierce rivalry with Florida. It's great to be able to be involved in a match like that. A 5 p.m. start time tomorrow, sort of a night match experience under the lights. It's going to be great."
Stanford junior Kristie Ahn
"I didn't strike the ball well in doubles. Then again, we were also playing the No. 1-ranked team in the country. In singles, I just focused on striking the ball. Especially after losing a tough three-set match on Friday, I knew that not much would be harder than that. I just really wanted to inspire the team and get off to a good start. Make a statement that doubles is only one point and we could cruise from there on out."
"I've come a long way this year since my injuries for the past year and a half. We've been working really hard, especially this spring quarter with our fitness and recovery. I think it really showed today."