No. 11 Stanford Cardinal (16-2, 8-2 Pac-12)
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Quinnipiac Bobcats (13-10, 8-0 MAAC)
NCAA Championships – First Round
Friday, May 9 – 2 p.m.
Taube Family Tennis Stadium
Weather Forecast: 75 degrees, sunny and crisp
STANFORD, Calif.- Ranked No. 11 in the latest national poll and seeded No. 11 overall in the postseason draw, defending NCAA champion Stanford (16-2, 8-2 Pac-12) will be making its 33rd consecutive postseason appearance when first round competition gets underway at campus sites this weekend.
Taube Family Tennis Stadium will serve as one of those venues, as Stanford hosts unranked Quinnipiac on Friday at 2 p.m., following the first match of the day between No. 21 Tulsa and No. 53 Long Beach State at 11 a.m. The winners hook up on Saturday at 1 p.m. with a berth in the round of 16 on the line.
Stanford owns a 129-16 record in the postseason since the NCAA Tournament went to its present format in 1982. The most storied program in college tennis, Stanford defeated Texas A&M in a 4-3 thriller to capture its 17th NCAA title last year. The championship also extended Stanford's record streak of 37 years in a row with at least one NCAA title and paved the way for a 19th consecutive Directors' Cup.
With that said, here are five storylines heading into this weekend’s competition.
| Embracing The Underdog Role Again?
Despite racking up trophies on trophies on trophies, it might be surprising to note that Stanford has become familiar with starting the postseason in an underdog role. Believe it or not, the Cardinal – long considered the gold standard in college tennis – has entered NCAA’s seeded higher than fifth only once (No. 1 in 2011) over the last six years. The “under-the-radar” approach greatly benefited Stanford in 2010, with the Cardinal knocking off three higher-seeded foes and winning the national championship as the No. 8 seed. Of course, we all know what happened last year, as Stanford became the lowest-seeded team at No. 12 to win an NCAA title, upsetting No. 5 USC, No. 4 Georgia and No. 1 Florida along the way. This year’s team isn’t perfect. However, it would be foolish to dismiss such a tradition-rich program like Stanford, which has shown it can claim the hardware as either a favorite or underdog, from the national championship discussion.
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| Quick Glance At The Visitors
So, what do we know about the three other teams visiting The Farm this weekend? Quinnipiac captured the MAAC’s automatic bid and is making its first postseason appearance in four years. The Bobcats have been the Cardinal’s NCAA first-round opponent in two other seasons (2004, 2006) – both of which triggered national title runs for Stanford. Youthful No. 21 Tulsa (17-5, 2-0 Conference USA) is the next highest-ranked team in the pod, and was good enough to earn an at-large bid despite losing in its conference tournament. Then there’s another two-loss club in No. 53 Long Beach State (20-2, 8-0 Big West), which captured the Big West Tournament title for the fourth straight season and 11th time over the last 13 years. The PA announcer earns his/her paycheck during the Tulsa/Long Beach State match, where only one player (Long Beach State freshman Hayley Thompson of Irvine, Calif.) of the combined 16 participants hails from the United States.
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| As If Incentive Was Needed
Quinnipiac, Tulsa and Long Beach State can all thank Pac-12 rival California for providing Stanford with extra incentive this weekend (as if it was really needed). Three weeks ago, the Golden Bears became only the fifth opponent over the last 15 years to defeat the Cardinal at Taube Family Tennis Stadium. California, which had not won a match on The Farm since Feb. 27, 1999, handed Stanford its second home loss of the year. It’s the first time Stanford has suffered two home setbacks in a season since the 1987 campaign, so you can bet the Cardinal will be using the upcoming weekend as an opportunity to erase that memory. Stanford has performed well at home during the opening weekend of NCAA Tournament competition, notching 4-0 shutouts in 24 of its last 26 such duals.
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| Everyone Knows Their Role
There has been very little movement within Stanford’s talent-rich singles and doubles lineups this year, with upperclassmen and rookies scattered throughout. Not only has head coach Lele Forood essentially used the same six players, but the spots of the lineup have pretty much remained unchanged. Perhaps most importantly, the Cardinal also boasts impressive depth. Consider this: all six players in the singles lineup are ranked in the top-60 and will compete in the NCAA Singles Championship. On the doubles side, two of Stanford’s three pairings own a national ranking. That type of consistency has been important this year, as the Cardinal needed to fill a void left by the early departure of back-to-back NCAA singles champion Nicole Gibbs (turned pro) while integrating a trio of freshmen into the lineup.
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| More On That Lineup
Stanford’s primary personnel includes three battle-tested returnees from last year’s NCAA championship team and three highly-touted rookies. Senior Kristie Ahn is the country’s third-ranked player and unquestioned team leader at the top spot, piling up a 17-2 record against nationally-ranked opponents. Sophomore Krista Hardebeck, who as a newcomer provided clinchers against Georgia and Florida during last year’s NCAA title run, has anchored the No. 2 spot. Dependable junior Ellen Tsay, who clinched Stanford’s win over USC in last season’s round of 16, is 21-7 overall at the No. 5 spot. Meanwhile, freshmen Taylor Davidson, Caroline Doyle and Carol Zhao have combined for a 75-17 record. Davidson is 22-7 overall and playing at the No. 4 spot, Doyle owns a team-best 28-5 overall record while occupying the No. 6 position and Zhao has been nearly unstoppable at the No. 3 line with a 25-5 overall record.