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ND Women’s Tennis: Squad travels to Florida, begins Big East tourney

Dan Masterton | Thursday, April 17, 2008

The No. 17 Irish travel to the Tampa this weekend, looking to reclaim the Big East Tournament Champi-onship as they take on the University of South Florida.

The Irish won the tournament in 2005 and 2006, but host South Florida took the title in 2007.

Notre Dame (18-8) went 5-0 in Big East play this year and received a first-round bye as the tournament’s No. 1 seed. The Irish await the winner of today’s 9 a.m. match-up between No. 8 Rutgers (13-8) and No. 9 Pitt (11-7).

Notre Dame coach Jay Louderback recognizes that No. 1 seeds have nowhere to hide.

“I’m sure they are all gunning for us. We’re the highest ranked team nationally [in the Big East], so everyone is going to be excited to get a chance to play us,” Louderback said.

The Irish have yet to face either team so Louderback and his players will be scouting the match.

“They play in the morning [today], so we’ll get a chance to see them. We don’t know much yet about either one of them,” said Louderback.

Rutgers brings a three-game winning streak into the tournament and went 7-4 in conference play this year. The Scarlet Knights will try to knock off Pittsburgh who earned the highest conference tournament seed in school history this year.

The Irish have faced and steamrolled the best the Big East has to offer this year. The five conference opponents that Notre Dame has faced and beat are the No. 2 through No. 6 seeds in the tournament.

The victims include No. 41 Louisville, No. 46 South Florida, and No. 66 DePaul are ranked nationally. Combined, the Irish won their five conference matches 32-3, including shutouts against DePaul and Marquette.

The Irish have rebounded from a rough start to put together an impressive regular season. After losing two of their first three on the road, the Irish got back on track.

“We felt like we could have won those matches, so the kids have worked hard, especially at the end of the year going into the NCAA’s and the Big East [Tournament]. The big thing has been the hard work and that a lot of the kids have been around the last few years and played in a lot of big matches,” Louderback said.

Postseason experience is an advantage the Irish will hold over their less experienced opponents.

“Making the quarterfinals in the NCAA’s the last few years and the experience they have gotten in all the big matches will be key,” he said.

The team arrived in Florida, the site of the tournament for the fourth straight year, late last night. Since the Irish have been regulars at the tournament, they have a bit of a routine.

“Our kids are familiar with the courts and surroundings and everything,” Louderback said. “The last three years we have gotten into a good routine with when we eat, where we eat, and the timing of everything.”

While doubles has definitely been the team’s strength for the season with nationally top-ranked duo of senior Brook Buck and junior Kelcy Tefft, the team has also made a routine lately of dominating singles play.

The newest polls recognized the impressive individual play, as Notre Dame will enter the postseason with three ranked singles players: No. 44 Tefft, No. 84 sophomore Cosmina Ciobanu, and No. 89 Buck.

The tournament rankings placed fourth-seeded Marquette in Notre Dame’s half of the bracket. Louisville is the second seed, sharing the bottom half with third-seeded South Florida.

The Irish will play their quarterfinal match on the Varsity Courts at South Florida this Friday morning at 9 a.m. against either Rutgers or Pittsburgh. If they advance, their semi-final match will be at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The final match is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Sunday.

There is also a consolation bracket set-up, but Notre Dame does not plan on being a part of that. The Irish have their sights set on taking their third Big East title in four years. “We’re excited to get there and play,” Louderback said.