STANFORD, Calif.- Ranked No. 41 in the latest edition of the ITA national poll, Stanford opens its dual match season on Tuesday, Jan. 14, hosting Pacific at 1:30 p.m. at Taube Family Tennis Stadium.
Stanford (12-12, 3-4 Pac-12) finished last year ranked No. 42 in the country while qualifying for its 35th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance. The Cardinal, which fought until the final weekend to lock up an at-large postseason berth, navigated through a grueling schedule that featured nine opponents ranked among the top-20 while finishing fourth in one of the nation's most challenging conferences.
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THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
Rookies Gain Valuable Experience
Head coach John Whitlinger is hopeful that his youthful squad can build on the experiences from last year and continue to develop in 2014. Stanford’s six-member singles lineup last spring featured five underclassmen, resulting in a crash course of what to expect at the Division I level. This group had no choice but to grow up quickly, especially after losing All-Americans Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher to graduation. Somehow, it all worked out, primarily for the tight-knit freshman class. Nolan Paige and Maciek Romanowicz battled in the middle of the lineup, Trey Strobel was effective on the back courts and Anthony Tsodikov provided a glimpse of what he can do in limited action.
Doubles Clearly A Strength
Stanford played much of the 2012-13 campaign with a shuffled lineup that was made even more unstable due to a rash of injuries. As a result, it was occasionally a mystery where the singles victories were coming from but doubles was just the opposite. The Cardinal was incredibly solid, capturing the doubles point in 17 of its 24 matches and in most cases, that 1-0 lead provided the difference between a win and a loss. Denis Lin and John Morrissey proved to be a capable No. 1 team. Romanowicz and Robert Stineman chalked up a team-best 16-9 record and were 8-3 at No. 2. And there were options at No. 3, with the veteran duo of Jamin Ball and Daniel Ho (10-4 overall, 7-3 duals) or the freshman tandem of Nolan Paige and Trey Strobel (8-3 overall, 4-0 duals).
Competitive Effort Every Time
Unlike previous seasons, last year’s NCAA Tournament appearance wasn’t a given. The Cardinal had to scratch, fight and claw its way to the postseason, making the eventual invite even more satisfying. Improving tremendously since the start of the season, Stanford had to scrape until the final weekend to ensure it would not miss the NCAA Tournament for only the fourth time in school history. However, that 12-12 record was also a bit misleading. Stanford ended the regular season with a strong finishing kick, winning four of its last six matches. Not to mention, three of Stanford's last four losses resulted in competitive 4-3 nail-biters. Playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules took its toll, but you had to admire the moxie and willingness of such a young group to accomplish its goal of reaching the postseason.
“I’m looking forward to a good second year for the sophomores. They’ve all been through it once now. Our freshmen have been a little banged up and are recovering from injuries this fall. We were able to stay in matches last year because of doubles. We worked hard at it. Denis and John started to click. Robert and Maciek were very good together. Danny and Jamin play well together and so do Trey and Nolan. Matt (Kandath) and Trey got hurt at different points and while it’s unfortunate when injuries happen, it allowed the doubles to be more cohesive. So, we just sort of rolled with it. You try to find the right combination early. We have good doubles players. There are going to be some guys who won’t play right away, but they will compete eventually.”
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THREE MATCHES THAT WILL MATTER
Jan. 25-26 ITA Kick-Off Weekend - TBA
ITA Kick-Off Weekend takes place at 15 campus sites around the country, with the winners advancing to the National Team Indoor Championships on Feb. 14-17 in Houston, Texas. Anyone Stanford faces in this tournament will likely be a top-20 opponent. But the Cardinal must get there first, and that's not going to be easy. Stanford's pod is arguably one of the most challenging in the entire draw. In previous years, the Cardinal had served as a host site but this year will travel to Athens, Ga., to open against No. 37 Washington. Unless Columbia can pull a monumental upset in the other first round match, the Stanford-Washington winner likely faces host Georgia, ranked No. 3 in the preseason. Stanford last captured the hardware at this tournament in 2002 with a 4-3 win over Illinois.
Feb. 9 vs. UCLA – 12 p.m.
It's always a highly-anticipated weekend when the Southern California schools pay a visit to Taube Family Tennis Stadium. This year's LA weekend opens with a Feb. 7 matinee against USC, which has won four of the last five NCAA championships and is currently ranked No. 4. Two days later, Stanford hosts UCLA, which enters the preseason ranked No. 2 behind defending NCAA champion Virginia. The matches should provide an early barometer for the Cardinal, getting an up-close look at two of the nation’s premier programs. Stanford will travel to USC and UCLA in early April for the Pac-12 counting matches in the series. Plus, there’s always the possibility of a third matchup at some point during the Pac-12 Championships in Ojai.
April 11 vs. Washington – 1:30 p.m.
Here's a late-season conference dual that should carry postseason implications. An upset of USC or UCLA would most certainly qualify as a signature win, but Stanford must first take care of business against the Pac-12’s next tier. That includes Washington, an opponent that the Cardinal beat twice last year in what essentially could be described as “must-win” matches. Stanford claimed a 4-3 victory in Seattle and 4-2 triumph in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Championship three weeks later. Washington, which opens the preseason ranked four spots higher than Stanford, also reached the 2013 NCAA Tournament and booked a 4-3 win over Notre Dame before getting blanked by host Ohio State. Matches against the Huskies are always competitive and the timing of this contest screams "quality win opportunity" for the postseason resume of both clubs.
“Our work ethic and team chemistry has been great. I would love to get the season going off to a good start, giving us some confidence heading into conference play. It’s a tough schedule once again. We’ve got UCLA and USC twice. We will play Cal twice and those are of course going to be tough matches. Pacific and Saint Mary’s are better. We go to UNLV. I just really expect every match to be a challenge. We’re going to take our lumps a little bit along the way against some of these powerhouse teams but if you can challenge those guys a bit, keep it close and make them think a little, anything can happen. I think we can be pretty good. I just want to see our guys play a match.”
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THREE WHO WILL MAKE AN IMPACT
Junior John Morrissey
2013-14: Tallied a 3-4 record in the fall ... 2012-13: Pac-12 Second Team selection ... Pac-12 All-Academic Second Team honoree ... finished with a 21-15 overall record, 11-9 playing in the No. 1 spot ... participated in NCAA Singles Championship, falling in a first-round match ... won six matches against nationally-ranked players, including a 6-3, 5-7, 1-0 (8) victory over UCLA's No. 14 Marcos Giron on March 30 ... 5-1 in three-set action ... earned a final No. 58 national ranking ... provided the clinching point in three matches ... reached round 32 at the ITA All-Americans Championships after winning three qualifying matches ... 19-14 overall in doubles, 9-4 in tournament play and 5-1 in conference matches ... collected 10-8 record with Denis Lin while earning a final national ranking of No. 52.
Senior Daniel Ho
2013-14: Posted a 4-3 record in the fall ... 2012-13: Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention selection ... compiled a 19-13 overall record ... 10-6 in duals, going 4-1 at the No 4 spot and 6-5 at the No. 5 position ... 5-0 in three-set matches ... 9-7 in tournament matches ... 3-4 against conference opponents ... provided the clinching point in three matches ... 7-3 over his last 10 matches ... contributed a postseason victory, defeating LSU's Boris Arias 6-2, 6-4 at the No. 5 spot ... runner-up finish to teammate Robert Stineman at the Pacific Tigers Invitational ... 18-8 in doubles, including a 10-4 mark with Jamin Ball.
Sophomore Anthony Tsodikov
2013-14: Stanford’s best player during the fall season, compiling an 8-3 record and advancing to the quarterfinals of the ITA Northwest Regional Championships … 2012-13: Finished 5-5 overall ... 4-3 in tournament matches ... 1-2 in dual match play, picking up his lone victory against California's Wyatt Houghton (6-4, 6-3) on Feb. 24 ... defeated San Francisco's Jonathon Knowlman 6-4, 7-5 in his collegiate debut on Oct. 5 ... reached semifinals of Aggie Fall Invitational ... 7-4 in doubles competition, playing with four different partners.
“John stepped up for us last year, holding down the No. 1 spot. He was involved in a lot of matches that he was close to winning but it just slipped away. John is a guy that can beat anybody and just needs to believe he can do that. Danny is a captain, along with Jamin, and a great competitor. He has played in clutch matches for us, so we might start him higher in the lineup and really give him a shot. Maciek looks good out there, always puts himself in a position to win. Same thing with Nolan, who is very strong when he’s confident. Robert and Trey will be factors. Anthony presents a matchup issue for certain guys and if he can sink his teeth into a match, he can cause problems. He had a great fall and hopefully he can build on his chances as a sophomore.”