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ND WOMEN’S TENNIS: Court warriors

Kyle Cassily | Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The curtain rose last weekend on a new season for the Irish women’s tennis team, one full of new partners and rejuvenated faces.

The Irish women sent three seniors – Kristina Stastny, Lauren Connelly and Kelly Nelson – to the Maryland Invitational in College Park, Md. for a three-day tournament against the likes of Duke, Louisiana State University, West Virginia, Yale and Maryland.

The Irish women premiered a brand new coupling in doubles play, putting Connelly and Stastny together to face nationally-ranked competition. The season opening tournament also featured the return to action of Kelly Nelson, who had missed the previous season due to injuries.

Nelson participated in two matches in ‘B’ flight play. She opened play with a 6-3, 6-2 loss to West Virginia’s Monica Lyskawa, but quickly rebounded. In consolation play on the second day, Nelson triumphed in a hard-fought three-set match over Tiffany Tucker of LSU, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. She was set to take on Duke singles specialist Parker Goyer for the ‘B’ flight consolation championship on Sunday, but it was cancelled.

“I was really pleased with Kelly,” Irish assistant coach Michelle Dasso said of Nelson’s first win since Nov. 9, 2003. “It’s her first time she’s really played a match because of injuries in two years. She had a couple of great efforts and just fought really hard.”

Connelly and Stastny showed that inexperience together need not slow them down, as they took home the consolation championship for ‘A’ flight.

The pair suffered a setback in the opening round after dropping a single-set 8-5 to Yale’s duo of Aimee and Janet Kim, but rebounded against a nationally-ranked pairing. LSU’s Lauren Seaman and Tiffany Tucker were ranked 60th nationally before the Stastny-Connelly combination defeated them 8-4 in the consolation bracket semifinal.

The two Irish women finished what they started the next day, as they walked over Duke’s Lauren Archer and Goyer in an 8-2 championship win.

“[Lauren Connelly and Kristina Stastny], we were very pleased with them,” Dasso said. “They are really the leaders of our team this year and have worked hard so far this fall.”

Stastny’s success was not limited to doubles play, however; the Irish ace took home the singles ‘A’ flight consolation championship as well. She took two matches on Saturday, winning all four games played by a 6-1 count, against LSU’s Seaman in the semis and then Duke’s Jessi Robinson for the title. Her only loss came in the opening round to Yale’s Kim by a 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 score.

“Overall, this was a great weekend for our three seniors,” Dasso said. “All three of them had a couple of good wins and really started off the season on the right note.”

Connelly was victorious in singles play as well, knocking off Yale’s Rashmee Patil in a strong comeback 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 during the opening round.

Connelly then fell in the quarterfinals to Maryland’s Ramona But 7-6 (7-3), 6-1 and then in consolation play 6-3, 6-1 to LSU’s Mykala Hedberg. The Irish woman finished out her weekend with a consolation victory over Yale’s Kim 2-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Dasso and Irish head coach Jay Louderback were both happy with how their seniors performed this weekend and see it as a good omen for the rest of the season.

“It was great for them to start the season out on a high note,” Dasso said.