No. 27 Stanford Cardinal (14-5, 5-2 Pac-12)
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No. 43 Tulsa Golden Hurricane (15-12, 0-0 Conference USA)
NCAA Championships – First Round
Saturday, May 10 – 9 a.m. PT
Hurd Tennis Center
Weather Forecast: 90 degrees, sunny and humid
STANFORD, Calif.- No. 27 Stanford (14-5, 5-2 Pac-12) will be making its 35th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance when first round competition gets underway at campus sites this weekend.
The Cardinal travels to Waco, Texas, where it will square off against No. 43 Tulsa (15-12, 0-0 Conference USA) on Saturday at 9 a.m. PT in the first match of the day. The winner advances to the second round and faces either unranked Texas A&M-Corpus Christi or host Baylor, ranked No. 6 nationally but seeded No. 5 overall in the NCAA draw.
Stanford owns a 103-19 record in the postseason since the NCAA Tournament went to its present format in 1977, participating in all but three 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.
With that said, here are five storylines heading into this weekend’s competition.
| Finishing Kick Does The Trick
Last year’s Cardinal squad qualified for the postseason with a 12-11 record and No. 40 national ranking, characteristics that screamed bubble team from miles away. Significant progress was made this year, as Stanford finished third in the highly-competitive Pac-12 and earned an at-large bird thanks primarily to a strong finish, as evidenced by a 25-spot climb in the national rankings during the month of April. Stanford also posted four victories over top-40 opponents, including No. 16 California and No. 22 Boise State, while four of its five losses were against teams ranked in the top-10. Even more impressive, head coach John Whitlinger’s team, which includes only one senior, booked an NCAA Tournament spot despite battling multiple injuries throughout the year. Stanford notched five wins away from home. Stanford won all four of its matches decided by a 4-3 margin. Bottom line: the Cardinal will almost certainly never earn a lot of style points, but it also definitely will never quit.
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| Quick Glance At The Field
Tulsa (15-12, 0-0 Conference USA), which boasts two nationally-ranked singles players and one doubles team, received an automatic bid by winning the Conference USA Tournament title. The Golden Hurricane has been very streaky, entering the postseason with five straight wins immediately following a six-match losing streak. Tulsa sports a 9-12 record against nationally-ranked foes. Hosting first and second round competition for the 10th time over the last 12 years, Baylor (23-5, 4-1 Big 12) captured the Big 12 regular season title and is undefeated in 20 matches when serving as a host site for the early rounds. The Bears have won 15 of their last 16 overall and have played four matches in 2014 against Pac-12 foes, defeating UCLA and California while losing twice to USC. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (19-9, 6-0 Southland) earned an automatic bid after winning its conference tourney. The Islanders are riding a seven-match win streak dating back to April 8.
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| No Doubles, No Problem
Nothing is more representative of Stanford’s never-say-die attitude than its ability to overcome early deficits and grind out matches. Consider this: there have been six duals this year in which the Cardinal has lost the doubles point, only to rally back and win the match. It’s that type of focus and confidence that should only help in the postseason if Stanford falls behind 1-0. So, the singles production must be off the charts, right? Not necessarily, as only the Nos. 1, 5 and 6 spots in the lineup boast a winning percentage of at least 70.0 percent. Whitlinger has employed 10 different doubles combinations in dual matches this year, with the duo of Daniel Ho and Robert Stineman enjoying the most success with an 8-5 dual record and capable at playing either No. 1 or 2. Jamin Ball and John Morrissey dropped their first two matches together but have won three in a row. Yale Goldberg and Nolan Paige are the likely No. 3 pairing, but Maciek Romanowicz and Trey Strobel also boast experience in doubles.
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| Will Romanowicz Return In Time?
The availability of Romanowicz, who has been sidelined by injury, is unlikely to be determined before Saturday. The talented sophomore is 13-4 overall, 8-2 in duals and capable of playing at any of the top three courts. Romanowicz actually managed to hold down a singles ranking for nearly two months despite limited playing time. If Romanowicz is able to go, he’ll occupy the No. 2 position. If he’s not ready, nothing really changes. The Cardinal will operate as it has for the last month, winning matches left and right with Ho, Strobel, Paige, Anthony Tsodikov and Stineman all sliding up a spot. It will also be interesting to see what Paige can bring to the group. A fellow sophomore, Paige has progressed nicely since his return to the lineup. It’s a luxury for the Cardinal to have Paige, who won 20 matches as a freshman and was named ITA Northwest Region Rookie of the Year, lined up on the back courts.
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| Morrissey, Tsodikov Have Been Solid
Stanford has received its most consistent singles efforts from Morrissey and Tsodikov this season. It took longer than expected, but Morrissey (15-9, 11-4 duals) finally cracked the singles rankings at No. 118 thanks to his recent strong play. Morrissey has done an admirable job at the No. 1 spot, beating two top-60 players down the stretch while his four victories in three-set matches shows he doesn’t fold when the action gets extended. A walk-on at the No. 5 spot, all Tsodikov has done is compile a team-best 21 victories while his 13-5 dual record also leads the club. Sporting both a two-handed forehand and backhand, Tsodikov plays a unique style that frustrates opponents and is the only Cardinal regular on a winning streak, having won five duals in a row. When the Cardinal can lock in points from the Nos. 1 and 5 spots, the outcome is usually positive.