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ND Women’s Tennis: Looking for more hardware

Dan Masterton | Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The No. 22 Irish will be gunning to add another piece of hardware to their collection. As great as the 2008 Big East Championship and individual recognition looks, the trophy case has an empty place that Notre Dame will try to fill with a national championship.

As the Big East champs, the Irish (21-8) have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Their outstanding play in the conference tournament lead to the Big East coaches voting to recognize the Irish with nine different awards.

For the seventh time as Notre Dame coach, Jay Louderback was named Big East coach of the year. Louderback remained typically humble, crediting the award to his team’s outstanding play.

“The big thing was winning the conference. After losing it last year, we were pretty disappointed. Our kids were not too happy about it. The awards were just a result of us winning the tournament and having a really great year,” Louderback said.

Big East coaches also voted all three of Notre Dame’s double pairs to the All-Tournament team – the pairs of senior Brook Buck and junior Kelcy Tefft, sophomores Colleen Rielley and Cosmina Ciobanu, and sophomore Kali Krisik and freshman Kristen Rafael.

For all-conference singles, the coaches filled four of the 10 spots with Notre Dame players – Tefft, Buck, Rielley, and Ciobanu.

Finally, the coaches named Tefft the Big East’s most outstanding player. Irish players have won that award three straight years. Catrina Thompson won the award in 2006 and 2007.

The recognitions are a fitting final chapter for the career of senior captain Brook Buck. Buck was named to the all-conference singles and doubles teams three times each in her career.

Buck was the only player to post three singles wins and three doubles wins in the Big East Tournament this year, and she will enter her final NCAA Tournament as the No. 78 singles player in the nation.

Louderback said he could not be prouder of his team’s leader and is pleased with how she is closing her outstanding career.

“This last part of the season, her play has been the best it’s been since she’s been here. [Brook and Kelcy] have done a great job in doubles, but [Brook’s] singles play just has been very, very good,” the coach said. “I really wish she had a better fall because then she could have made the singles tournament at the end of the year here. It’s good to see such a great senior going out in style.”

Louderback said he will miss Buck’s leadership. In addition to her sportsmanship and the way she encourages her teammates on the court, Buck is a full-time leader.

“She’s done a great job off the court as our captain, too, and I could not be happier about how things have turned out for her this year,” Louderback said.

Buck and the Irish will finish the season with the NCAA Tournament in May. Buck and Tefft lead Notre Dame into the tournament as the No. 3 doubles pair in the nation.

In singles, Notre Dame has No. 56 Tefft and No. 102 Ciobanu alongside No. 78 Buck. Krisik quietly dominated from the bottom of the lineup and finished the dual season with a record of 23-4.

The NCAA Tournament splits the country’s top 64 teams into 14 four-team regionals. Since only the top 16 teams will host regionals as No. 1 seeds, No. 22 Notre Dame will have to go on the road as a No. 2 seed.

Louderback is confident in his team going forward, and the Irish have revenge for past losses in the backs of their minds.

“We have no idea where we are going yet. We’ll see when the pairings come out [today], but there are some teams we played earlier in the year that we would like to get a shot at again,” Louderback said.

Among the group of likely top seeds are No. 1 Northwestern, No. 2 Georgia, No. 3 Georgia Tech, No. 5 Baylor, No. 9 Duke, and No. 11 Vanderbilt. Notre Dame lost tough matches to each of those teams in the dual season and Louderback said his team would not mind a rematch with any of them.

The Irish had a record of 11-6 in matches played on the road or at neutral sites and went 10-6 against the Top 75.

Notre Dame will try to improve those records May 9 when regional play begins. If the Irish win their regional, they will join the other fifteen regional champions at the University of Tulsa to decide the national champion starting on May 15.