April 17, 2013
STANFORD, Calif.- California will be the opponent this weekend for both Stanford tennis teams, which close out the regular season before participating in the upcoming Pac-12 Championships.
The two programs might be at different points in their seasons, but a victory in their respective regular season finales against the rival Golden Bears would be equally significant.
No. 42 Stanford (11-9, 3-3 Pac-12) continues its late-season charge, having won three in a row leading up to Saturday's 1 p.m. contest against No. 18 California (12-8, 4-1 Pac-12) at Taube Family Tennis Stadium.
The postseason push shouldn't come as a surprise. Head coach John Whitlinger's troops have made an annual habit of finishing strong, most recently winning six of eight regular-season matches last year. The Cardinal entered the 2011 postseason riding a 10-match winning streak, won seven in a row down the stretch in 2010 and strung together five straight victories before the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
What makes this year even more impressive, is the fact Stanford is doing it with a relatively inexperienced lineup that regularly features five underclassmen at six spots in the singles lineup. Even Stanford's recent losses have been extremely competitive, notably hard-fought 4-3 defeats to No. 44 Oregon and No. 7 Pepperdine. Additionally, the Cardinal performed much better the second time around against USC and UCLA, two programs ranked among the nation's top-five.
Stanford is chasing an at-large NCAA Tournament berth and the race will be close. The Cardinal would feel a little safer with a top-40 ranking, overall winning record and conference record of .500 or better. All of those benchmarks are still in play, and California would represent Stanford's highest-ranked victim of the year if the Cardinal can pull out a win.
Saturday's match will also serve as Senior Day for Sam Ecker, Matt Kandath, Denis Lin and Walker Kehrer. The foursome has led Stanford to a 72-30 record and back-to-back NCAA Tournament quarterfinal finishes among three postseason appearances overall.
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No. 12 Stanford (16-3, 8-1 Pac-12) is also streaking down the stretch, entering Friday's matinee against No. 9 California (14-5, 8-1 Pac-12) in Berkeley having won five in a row.
Even with the recent hot stretch, capped by last weekend's win at No. 21 Arizona State, the Cardinal is still looking to climb back into the top-10 for the first time since early February. Figuring out the ITA national rankings can be a weekly mystery, but a victory over the Golden Bears seemingly would be enough to do the trick. It would also give Stanford a share of the regular-season Pac-12 title, should No. 5 USC lose to No. 7 UCLA on Thursday afternoon. The Women of Troy (20-2, 9-0 Pac-12) are currently in position to win the conference crown outright.
Stanford, which has won seven in row in the series dating back to April 2009, already owns a victory over California. The Cardinal defeated the Golden Bears 6-1 in a non-Pac-12 counting match back on March 2 at Taube Family Tennis Stadium, capturing the doubles point before locking up singles wins at the top five spots. That victory was also significant in that it served as the start of a season-high seven-match winning streak.
The stakes will of course be higher on Friday, with California hosting its Senior Day and also eyeing a share of the conference title. Additionally, the contest will be televised live on the Pac-12 Networks. The doubles competition begins at 12:30 p.m., with the telecast joined in progress at 2 p.m. and showcasing the singles matches on courts Nos. 1-3. Paul Sunderland will handle play-by-play duties while Justin Gimelstob serves as the color analyst.
Stanford is once again well represented in the latest edition of the national rankings, with five singles players (No. 17 Krista Hardebeck, No. 20 Nicole Gibbs, No. 34 Kristie Ahn, No. 76 Ellen Tsay, No. 94 Stacey Tan) and two doubles teams (No. 7 Ahn/Gibbs, No. 47 Tan/Tsay).