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Salas set to shine in final season with Irish

Ann Loughery | Thursday, February 5, 2004

Alicia Salas knew she didn’t belong on the sidelines.But as a freshman, the now nationally ranked senior didn’t make the starting lineup of the Irish tennis team.”I was always used to playing in high school, so not being able to compete my freshman year was frustrating,” Salas recalled. “I was sick of sitting on the sidelines.”That was all the motivation she needed.Over the summer following her freshman year, Salas played tournaments and honed her skills in preparation for an eventful sophomore season. Head coach Jay Louderback noted a significant change in her abilities. “She was very consistent as a freshman, but she didn’t have a whole lot of power,” he said. “She didn’t come to the net a lot. As a sophomore, she hit the ball with a lot more pace.”Playing the majority of the season at No. 4 her sophomore year, Salas posted a nearly flawless singles record for dual meets at 24-3 to lead the team in singles and doubles wins. In April of that year, she garnered her first career national ranking, placed at 123rd. Her success that year culminated in a combined total of 57 victories in singles and doubles, earning her the title of team MVP.Salas saw similar success her junior year, starting the season at No. 1 singles before returning to the No. 2 spot after teammate Caylan Leslie returned from an injury. Despite a shoulder injury later in the season, Salas finished with a 9-5 dual meet singles record and a 17-9 overall doubles record with current doubles partner Lauren Connelly. She finished the season ranked 98th, with a Big East Championship all-tournament team title to her name. Now, as a senior, her coaches can’t praise her enough.”She has great control and placement; she can really put the ball anywhere she wants to,” assistant coach Michelle Dasso said. “She can move the ball on a dime and makes very few errors. It’s hard to beat her because of that.”Salas’ success this fall bore witness to Dasso’s observation. This fall, she earned a 12-6 record, claiming eight victories over ranked opponents. Four of her losses came at the hands of top-10 ranked competitors. She has started the spring season strong, remaining undefeated after matches against Big Ten schools Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State. This past weekend, she avenged her loss last season to Wisconsin’s Katie McGaffigan, defeating her rival 7-6 (7-3), 6-3. Both Dasso and Louderback are confident her winning ways will continue. “I think she’ll do well this season,” Louderback said. “She’ll probably go quite a ways in the NCAA tournament. She’s competitive. She doesn’t like to lose.”