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Horns, Hawks loom on horizon

Anne Loughery | Friday, February 25, 2005

The No. 20 Irish are looking to redeem themselves after two heartbreaking losses to No. 5 Duke and No. 9 North Carolina.

Notre Dame (4-4) nearly pulled off a pair of upsets last weekend, winning the doubles points and holding early advantages but ultimately falling 4-3 to both teams. This weekend, coach Jay Louderback hopes the results will be just the opposite as the Irish take on No. 13 Texas (6-0) on Saturday and No. 57 Iowa (4-2) on Sunday.

“Last weekend, we just had trouble finishing our matches,” Louderback said. “We can’t let them get into third sets like we did against Duke and North Carolina. This weekend is another opportunity for us to compete against a top team.”

Texas looks to be the most challenging opponent the Irish will face this weekend. Last year, Texas defeated Notre Dame 5-2, winning two of the three doubles matches and four of the singles matches. The team returns many of its top players, including No. 80 Kendra Strohm and the No. 26 doubles duo of Katie Buckert and Strohm.

Freshman Courtney Zauft, ranked 97th in the nation, also joined the already impressive lineup.

This year’s match looks to be equally tough.

Texas remains undefeated this season at 6-0 with a conference record of 4-0. Last weekend, Texas took on Nebraska and Oklahoma State in a double header. The Longhorns were flawless in their matches, upending both teams 7-0.

The Hawkeyes look to be a tough chore as well. Although Notre Dame won last year 6-1, Iowa has fortified its roster since then, boasting rankings in both singles and doubles. Hillary Mintz is ranked at No. 78 singles and also at No. 59 doubles with teammate Meg Racette.

Mintz and Racette each played an integral role in the team’s 7-0 victories over Marquette and Bowling Green last weekend. Louderback expects the team will be just as competitive this weekend.

“They kind of had a slow start, but they’ve been playing real well in the last few meets,” Louderback said. “They’re very talented just like all of the teams on our schedule. We don’t really have any off meets.”

Louderback added their rigorous and demanding schedule is what will propel them to a strong finish towards the end of the season when they face especially tough competition in the NCAA championships.

“We’ve already got a solid doubles team,” Louderback said. “And now we’re focusing on singles. I think the more chances our kids have competing this season, the stronger our singles will become.”

The Irish will take the courts against Texas on Saturday at 12 p.m. and against Iowa on Sunday at 9 a.m.