STANFORD, Calif.- With the regular season in the books, this weekend's Pac-12 Championships in Ojai, Calif., serve as the final tune-up before NCAA Tournament first and second round action begins in two weeks at campus sites throughout the nation.
For the men, it's the third year of an eight-team tournament replacing the individual competition format. Meanwhile, the women's side features the traditional 32-player singles draw and 16-team doubles field.
Riding a five-match winning streak, No. 27 Stanford has now climbed 25 spots in the national rankings since April 1. The Cardinal (14-4, 5-2 Pac-12) likely locked up an NCAA Tournament bid last week, upsetting No. 16 California on the road for its fourth victory over a top-40 opponent this season.
Stanford, which avenged an earlier loss to California, also secured a third-place conference finish and the No. 3 seed for this year’s tournament at the Pac-12 Championships. The Cardinal has received a first-round bye and takes the court on Thursday at 2 p.m., facing the winner of Wednesday's opening-round match between sixth-seeded Washington and seventh-seeded Oregon.
Stanford should feel confident about its chances against either opponent. The Cardinal owns two victories against Washington, defeating the Huskies 4-2 in Athens, Ga., back in January and coming away with a 4-3 home victory two weeks ago. The following afternoon at Taube, Stanford notched a 4-2 win over Oregon.
Should Stanford win its quarterfinal match, the Cardinal would face second-seeded and fifth-ranked UCLA on Friday at 2 p.m. The Bruins handed the Cardinal a 4-0 loss three weeks ago in Los Angeles.
Stanford’s recent surge is even more impressive considering the Cardinal showcases a lineup with only one senior and has battled injuries to key players all season. Instead, Stanford has won four matches by a 4-3 margin while its losses have all come against top-10 teams.
The women's side of the Pac-12 Championships features a 32-player singles draw and 16-team doubles field. So, head coach Lele Forood will likely use this week as an opportunity for some players to sharpen their games while others receive some much-needed rest.
No. 9 Stanford (16-2, 8-2 Pac-12) is coming off a 6-1 loss to California during the 15th annual ZOOM Marketing Spring Smash at Taube, which resulted in the Golden Bears claiming their first Pac-12 title in school history.
Saturday’s match also represented a rare home loss for Stanford, which saw an opponent celebrate on its home court for only the fifth time in 15 years. For the first time since the 1987 campaign, Stanford dropped two matches at home. However, the loss is hardly damaging for Stanford, which had already defeated California 5-2 in Berkeley back on March 8. The defending NCAA champion Cardinal, which will likely enter the postseason as a top-8 overall seed, also boasts quality wins against Texas, Rice, Florida and Arizona State.
However, for at least one week, the focus shifts to true individual competition. Four Cardinal players are slated to compete in the main draw, led by Krista Hardebeck, whose impressive tournament run last year ended one step short of becoming Stanford’s third consecutive Pac-12 singles champion following Nicole Gibbs (2012) and Kristie Ahn (2011). Ellen Tsay and freshmen Taylor Davidson and Carol Zhao will also participate in the 32-player field.
The national rankings continue to resemble a mirror image of nearly Stanford’s entire roster. In singles, the Cardinal is represented with Ahn (3), Zhao (23), Davidson (40), Tsay (49), Doyle (52) and Hardebeck (54). Doubles teams of Ahn/Zhao (9) and Davidson/Tsay (38) are also included.