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5 NCAA Storylines: No. 6 Cal
Courtesy: Brian Risso  
Release: 05/14/2014

No. 11 Stanford Cardinal (18-2, 8-2 Pac-12)
- vs. -
No. 6 California Golden Bears (20-4, 10-0 Pac-12)

NCAA Championships – Round of 16
Thursday, May 15 – 9 a.m. PT
Dan Magill Tennis Complex
Weather Forecast: 70 degrees, humid with thunderstorms

STANFORD, Calif.- No. 11 Stanford (18-2, 8-2 Pac-12), will be making its 29th consecutive postseason appearance in the NCAA Championships round of 16 when competition gets underway Thursday morning in Athens, Ga.

Stanford, which defeated Texas A&M to capture last year’s NCAA championship, has won 17 of the 32 possible NCAA team titles and captured 18 national championships overall when including the 1978 AIAW crown. The Cardinal owns a 131-16 record in the postseason since the NCAA Tournament went to its present format in 1982.

Despite its status as the most storied program in college tennis, 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 has entered NCAA’s seeded higher than fifth only once (No. 1 in 2011) over the last six years. Stanford won the 2010 NCAA championship as the No. 8 seed and last year became the lowest-seeded team at No. 12 to win an NCAA title.

Now the action heats up this weekend in steamy Athens, Ga., as the nation’s top 16 teams remain in the hunt for a national championship. Stanford’s next hurdle will be No. 6 California, as the Pac-12 powerhouses square off for a spot in the quarterfinals.

With that said, here are five storylines heading into this weekend’s competition.

Carbon Copy Of Last Year
Thursday’s rubber match against California (20-4, 10-0 Pac-12) is already being hyped by many national tennis pundits as the best matchup in the round of 16. Ironically, this contest shapes up almost exactly like last year’s five-hour NCAA round of 16 clash against USC, in which Stanford prevailed 4-3. The similarities are striking. USC was seeded No. 5, entered the match having won 15 in a row and finished conference play 9-0 to claim the Pac-12 title. One of those league wins was a 6-1 rout of Stanford in Los Angeles. Fast forward to this year, where California is seeded No. 6, riding a 14-match winning streak and clinched its first-ever Pac-12 championship with a 10-0 mark. These teams met twice in the regular season with Stanford pocketing a 5-2 triumph in Berkeley on March 8, only to see California prevail 6-1 on The Farm on April 19 in the regular-season finale for both teams.

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A Closer Look At No. 6 California
Conference matchups are often unavoidable when you reach the round of 16, and there will be absolutely no surprises here. In this case, California is loaded with enough talent to contend for the national title. Yes, these teams split their two regular-season matchups, but the Golden Bears must feel like they have all the momentum after snatching a 6-1 victory at Taube Family Tennis Stadium during the final match of the regular season. But this is the postseason and Stanford has been in this spot before (see last year against USC). How will the Golden Bears handle the pressure that comes along with being the favorite? California boasts six top-100 players in its lineup and four have earned berths in the NCAA Championships. Denise Starr, Zsofi Susanyi and Anett Schutting are interchangeable at the top of the lineup while the back courts are stacked with Lynn Chi, Klara Fabikova and Maegan Manasse.

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Ahn Anchors The Cardinal
Points are at a premium in the postseason, so you start to analyze matchups within lineups and figure out where the “automatics” are coming from. For Stanford this year, it’s been Kristie Ahn. Nobody questioned Ahn’s credentials as a No. 1 in the lineup: providing the clinching point in a national championship match clearly allows you to check that box. But the loss of back-to-back NCAA singles champion Nicole Gibbs, who elected to turn pro, left a sizeable void at the top of the lineup. Ahn has filled it. Ranked No. 3 in the nation, Ahn is 26-3 overall, 14-2 in duals and 17-2 against nationally-ranked opponents while capturing singles titles at the ITA Northwest Regional Championships and NCTC Classic. The unquestioned leader of a young Cardinal squad, Ahn is playing quality tennis and she won’t encounter a bigger moment than last year’s NCAA title match. Oh, by the way, Ahn is 12-2 in her career against Cal opponents, and has already beaten five of the six players in the Golden Bear lineup this year.

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Find A Better Rookie Trio
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better trio of freshmen than the highly-touted group of Taylor Davidson, Caroline Doyle and Carol Zhao. The talented rookies have combined for a 78-17 overall record in singles and have looked equally impressive doing it. Zhao has slid right in at the No. 3 spot, ranked No. 21 in the country with a 26-5 overall record and 17-1 mark in duals while compiling a 17-match win streak that spanned nearly four months. Davidson is a powerful hitter at the No. 4 spot, ranked No. 50 with a 22-7 overall record and 14-3 dual match ledger. Those “automatics” we mentioned earlier? Caroline Doyle would classify at the No. 6 position, ranked No. 57 and boasting a team-best 30-5 overall record while losing only two duals. That being said, one must remember that these newcomers are making their postseason debut and the stakes get higher with each passing round. However, everything indicates they’ll be up for the challenge.

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Doubles Play Has Been A Strength
A team strength all season long, Stanford has claimed the doubles point in 18 of its 20 matches this year. Routinely grabbing a 1-0 lead has allowed the Cardinal to get a jump on its opponent. One reason for the success has been consistency within the lineup, as head coach Lele Forood has employed only four doubles combinations in dual match play. The No. 1 spot has been solidified by Ahn and Zhao, who are ranked No. 10 in the nation after compiling a 27-4 record that includes an NCTC Classic title. The No. 2 pairing of Davidson and Ellen Tsay has been terrific, registering a 25-5 overall record and 15-1 clip in duals. The No. 3 duo of Doyle and Amelia Herring will be playing only its 10th match together, getting the starting nod after a strong run at Pac-12 Championships. The shift allows Krista Hardebeck, one of the most vital players from last year’s championship run, to focus solely on her singles. Hardebeck struggled near the end of the season but looked extremely sharp in the opening rounds last week.

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