May 14, 2012
NCAA Women's Bracket
No. 5 Stanford Cardinal (20-1, 9-1 Pac-12)
- vs. -
No. 12 Northwestern Wildcats (20-8, 10-1 Big Ten)
NCAA Women's Tennis Championships - Round of 16
Thursday, May 17, 2012 - 9 a.m. PT
Dan Magill Tennis Complex - Athens, GA
Weather Forecast: 83 degrees, sunny and humid
STANFORD, Calif.- Stanford (20-1, 9-1 Pac-12) has advanced to the NCAA Championships round of 16 for the 27th year in a row. Ranked No. 5 in the latest edition of the national rankings but seeded No. 4 overall in the postseason draw, the Cardinal owns a 122-15 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament.
Long considered the gold standard in women's college tennis, Stanford has won 16 of 30 possible NCAA team titles and 17 national championships overall when including the 1978 AIAW crown.
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 and Florida have faced off in the previous two NCAA finals, with the Gators snapping Stanford's NCAA-record 184-match home winning streak last year and the Cardinal capturing the 2010 national title with a 4-3 victory on these same courts in Athens.
With that said, here are a few interesting storylines heading into this weekend's competition:
| Embracing The Underdog Role Again?
When Stanford won it all two years ago, the Cardinal was seeded No. 8 in the NCAA draw and found itself four years removed from a dominant three-peat title run from 2004-06. That "under-the-radar" approach greatly benefited Stanford, which knocked off three higher-seeded opponents along the way. This year's team is somewhat similar, and the pressure of maintaining a lengthy home winning streak or undefeated record is no longer an issue. Despite its status as the nation's only remaining one-loss team, Stanford has somehow been ranked fourth or lower for all but five weeks of the year. That being said, it would be foolish to dismiss an experienced program like Stanford from national title contention.
| This One Will Definitely Be Earned
If Stanford ends up hoisting the trophy next Tuesday afternoon, it will have been well-deserved. That's because the left side of the NCAA bracket is extremely loaded. As if playing in arguably the best tennis conference in the country wasn't enough, the Cardinal could still match up with at least two Pac-12 rivals such as UCLA (No. 1 seed, No. 1 ITA rank), USC (No. 5 seed, No. 4 ITA rank) or California (No. 9 seed, No. 9 ITA rank). Also potentially standing in the way are Georgia Tech (2007 NCAA champion) and longtime nemesis Baylor, which eliminated Stanford from the postseason in 2008 and 2009. Simply put, the Cardinal will face a grueling stretch just to reach the championship match.
| The Return of Kristie Ahn
Wild card. X-factor. Secret weapon. Insert any game-changing, difference-making adjective here. Stanford is hopeful that sophomore All-American Kristie Ahn, who has played in only three matches this year, can return to competition. Ahn battled a right ankle injury late last year that essentially sidelined her during the NCAA Tournament, while a left foot injury has kept her unavailable for practically all of this year. Ahn's mere presence alone can positively impact Stanford, sliding both Ellen Tsay and Veronica Li down one spot in the lineup. Here's the deal: Ahn is a gamer, wants to play and has worked hard in her rehab. If she can't go, Natalie Dillon gets the call at No. 6 and the former walk-on has made the most of her opportunity this year.
| Strength At The Top
There might not be a better 1-2 punch in the country than Stanford's Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs, who are ranked among the nation's top-five in both singles (Gibbs is No. 3, Burdette is No. 5) and doubles (ranked No. 2). The All-American duo anchors Stanford's lineup and presents difficult matchup challenges for opponents. Gibbs, who plays at the No. 1 spot, has already pocketed two singles titles this year, winning the ITA Northwest Regional Championships and Pac-12 Championships. Burdette, who plays at the No. 2 position, is a team-best 36-5 overall, unbeaten in 19 duals and won the singles title at the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships. Doubles? The duo is 28-4 overall, 16-1 in duals and claimed the Riviera/ITA All-American title.
| The Late-Night Scare Of 2011
Ranked No. 12 in the ITA poll but seeded No. 13 overall in the NCAA draw, Northwestern (20-8, 10-1 Big Ten) is appearing in the round of 16 for the 12th time in 13 years. A postseason regular, the Wildcats once again captured the Big Ten crown. Northwestern might not be able to match Stanford on paper, but the Wildcats nearly pulled off a late-night stunner in last year's round of 16 matchup against the Cardinal. In a Thursday evening contest that took nearly five hours to complete and finally ended at 1:34 a.m. on Friday, Northwestern pushed Stanford to the limit in a 4-2 loss. The Wildcats held a 2-1 lead in the match and even locked up the doubles point, a feat accomplished by only one Stanford opponent this year.