No. 11 Stanford Cardinal (19-2, 8-2 Pac-12)
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No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers (24-5, 12-2 ACC)
NCAA Championships – Quarterfinals
Saturday, May 17 – 9 a.m. PT
Dan Magill Tennis Complex
Weather Forecast: 75 degrees, partly cloudy with a light breeze
ATHENS, Ga.- Making its 29th consecutive postseason appearance, No. 11 Stanford (19-2, 8-2 Pac-12) has moved into the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships and will next face No. 4 Virginia (24-5, 12-2 ACC) on Saturday.
Looking to repeat as national champions for the first time since an undefeated three-year stretch from 2004-06, Stanford is coming off a heart-stopping 4-3 victory over California on Thursday afternoon in which the Cardinal shook off match point and deficits of 2-0 and 3-2. Freshman Caroline Doyle provided the three-set clincher on court six while fellow rookies Taylor Davidson and Carol Zhao also contributed to fuel Stanford’s comeback.
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 132-16 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.
With that said, here are five storylines heading into Saturday’s match.
| Honestly, Is Anyone Surprised?
Thursday’s 4-3 comeback victory over California was just the latest chapter in a recent series of memorable postseason comebacks. During last year’s NCAA title run, Stanford knocked off the Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 5 seeds along the way. Rewind even further to its 2010 NCAA championship, and the Cardinal has now won its last eight(!) postseason matches when seeded lower than its opponent. California head coach Amanda Augustus was very candid in her comments yesterday, saying “I think Stanford will go really far now in the tournament. I think we’re two of the better teams this year, so I wish them luck. If it can’t be us, I want it to be someone from our conference.” Had California made a run at the NCAA title this year, nobody from Stanford would have been surprised either. The Pac-12 is vastly underrated and despite Stanford’s low seeding, the Cardinal will not sneak up on anyone this time around.
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| A Closer Look At No. 4 Virginia
Every step here in Athens will be considered a first for upstart Virginia (24-5, 12-2 ACC), which checks in at No. 4 in the national rankings but assigned the No. 3 overall seed in the postseason draw. Reaching the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time in school history, Virginia is enjoying a storybook season under ninth-year head coach Mark Guilbeau that includes its first-ever ACC regular-season title, ACC Tournament crown and a program-best 24 victories. Stanford possesses a huge edge in experience but it would be foolish to overlook Virginia, a program on the rise that has been ranked among the top-10 for all but the first month of the year. Stanford won the only previous matchup and there is very little history here. In fact, of the current players on both rosters, the only head-to-head meeting came back on Jan. 14, 2012, when Li Xi defeated Ellen Tsay 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the quarterfinals of the NCTC Classic at Indian Wells, Calif.
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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, especially in the postseason, where losing the doubles point isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. Consider this: over the last five years of NCAA Tournament play, Stanford is now 5-2 overall in matches when it loses the doubles point. It’s that same type of focus and confidence that allowed the Cardinal to overcome a 1-0 deficit against the Golden Bears on Thursday. Stanford might be a little vulnerable at the No. 3 spot, where Caroline Doyle and Amelia Herring will be playing in only their fourth dual, although a 7-3 overall record says they are capable of posting a win. The other two spots feature nationally-ranked duos, with Kristie Ahn and Carol Zhao (ranked No. 10, 27-4 overall, 14-1 duals) holding down the top position and Taylor Davidson and Ellen Tsay (ranked No. 50, 25-6 overall, 15-2 duals) next in line.
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| Coming Of Age
Stanford’s highly-touted freshman trio of Taylor Davidson, Caroline Doyle and Carol Zhao cruised through the regular season, chalking up a combined 75-17 record in singles play. But how would they perform come NCAA Tournament time, when the stakes are high and pressure intensifies? Against California on Thursday, that question was answered. Doyle’s thrilling 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (0) victory provided the clincher, as she trailed 5-3 in third set and had to shake off match point. Stanford’s leader with 31 victories, Doyle was in position to clinch the match only thanks to victories by fellow rookies Davidson, who shook off cramps and fatigue to grind out a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 triumph at the No. 4 spot, and Zhao, who required less theatrics in a dominating 6-2, 6-3 rout at the No. 3 position.
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| ITA Regional Awards Reflect Depth
It’s no secret Stanford boasts perhaps the deepest lineup in all of college tennis. The ITA Regional awards certainly reflect that, as this year’s Northwest winners include Kristie Ahn (Senior Player of the Year), Taylor Davidson (Rookie of the Year), Carol Zhao (Player To Watch), Lele Forood (Head Coach of the Year) and Frankie Brennan (Assistant Coach of the Year). They’re now all in the running for the national equivalent, which takes into account a pool of the 12 regions around the country. That’s five representatives from a team that finished third in the Pac-12, one of the nation’s strongest conferences. Doesn’t exactly sound like an honor associated with a No. 11 seed in the postseason, does it?