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ND Women’s Tennis: It takes two, baby

Lorenzo Reyes | Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Through Notre Dame’s most recent three game winning streak, there has been one constant – solid doubles play.

Ask Irish coach Jay Louderback, and it’s easy to tell it’s no mistake his squad has won the ever-so-important doubles point in each of these three contests.

“It’s been something we’ve always focused on in practice,” Louderback said of doubles preparation. “It’s always nice to start the match out with a one-point lead because then you only need three singles wins to take the match. It’s really important because it helps set the tone for the rest of the match, and can create some momentum that the players feed off of.”

Earlier in the dual match season, Notre Dame struggled, losing the doubles point in three straight matches in Feb. against Georgia, William & Mary and Baylor. Although all three opponents were ranked in the top-15 at the time, Louderback realized the importance of establishing a winning standard in the doubles matches.

A great deal of the difficulties, Louderback said, were due to the process of finding the right combinations to put together the squad’s three best doubles tandems.

“Early in the year we kind of struggled,” he said. “We were just switching players around, trying to find the best combinations that we were most comfortable with.”

Fortunately for the Irish, it worked.

Since the Baylor match on Feb. 11, Louderback’s changes have resulted in Notre Dame securing the doubles point in nine of the past 10 dual matches. During that stretch, the Irish are 7-3 overall.

“We’re pretty much always ready for our doubles matches,” Louderback said. “We were working a lot on our singles preparation, but once we began to struggle in doubles, we went back and started drilling a lot more in terms of our doubles strategy. We just have to make sure to keep doing our doubles drills that get us ready for the matches.”

When trying to construct the ideal doubles pair, Louderback cited the mixing of complimenting styles as one of the optimal factors.

“Well, you’re better off not playing a group that has the same style of play,” he said. “What you really want out there is one player who can serve well and hit the ball with a lot of pace. Her partner should not miss much, volley and lob well and just not miss many balls.”

The No. 1 nationally-ranked duo of senior Brook Buck and junior Kelcy Tefft are 14-2 in doubles play during the dual match season and 25-4 overall. The pair is currently riding a nine-game winning streak that has helped fuel the recent doubles dominance.

“It’s kind of like in the past when we had the Thompson’s,” Louderback said of Buck and Tefft in comparison to Christian and Catrina Thompson, who were the last Irish duo to be the top-ranked doubles pair in the nation. “We would go out thinking, ‘We’ll probably get a win from the No. 1 spot with [the Thompson’s]’ and now we have the same thing with Brook and Kelcy. They just help take the pressure off of the rest of the girls and help them focus on their own matches.”

Despite Louderback’s formula for an ideal doubles pair, Buck and Tefft are similar players in that they are well-rounded.

“They both do everything well,” Louderback said. “They both finish their points, lob well, serve well and have a lot of power. What impresses me most is how they can consistently finish off their points.”

It comes as no surprise to Louderback to know that both Buck and Tefft have developed their relationship off the court as well.

“Brook and Kelcy are very, very close,” Louderback said. “They are great friends and they’re just very comfortable with each other.”

With Buck and Tefft’s success, the No. 3 pair has been somewhat overshadowed, despite their recent tear in the dual match season. The sophomore duo of Cosmina Ciobanu and Colleen Rielley is 11-1 this season, winning four straight and nine of their last 10.

“They simply both feel very comfortable playing with each other,” Louderback said. “They volley and lob extremely well. They don’t serve as well as our No. 1 team, but they still are very solid and have gotten the job done recently.”

The combined 25-3 doubles record of the No. 1 and 3 teams took the No. 2 group’s recent progress out of the limelight. Sophomore Kali Krisik and freshman Kristen Rafael have only played together for 10 matches and display a 5-5 record, but have won their past two. There is only one thing Louderback would like to see more out of this duo – consistency.

“Our No. 2 pair is more explosive,” he said. “Kristen hits the ball really well, but sometimes makes a few errors. Kali is kind of the same. The one thing they kind of need to find is consistency, because when they are good, they’re really good, but when they’re not, they struggle. But when they’re on, they’re really dangerous.”

If the tandem can find what their coach wants of them, one thing is certain – Irish opponents better be prepared.