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Irish looking for golden racket

Doug Farmer | Friday, February 13, 2009

This weekend Notre Dame will join 15 other teams in Madison at the ITA Indoor National Championships, all with hopes of winning the golden racket. The No. 14 Irish encounter the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal to start things off today.

The Irish have been in Madison since Wednesday so they could practice on the championship courts before the matches begin. While admittedly anxious upon arrival to the team hotel, a chance to hit around on the courts should calm the team’s nerves greatly, and with no time to spare.

Stanford and a bit of tennis history await the Irish on Friday. Stanford has won 15 national championships since 1982, including three straight from 2004 to 2006.

“Stanford has been down a little bit for the last few years,” senior Kelcy Tefft said. “But they are always really, really good.”

Stanford will be the first top-10 team that Notre Dame faces this season, and thus, the team knows the match will be quite a change from the season so far – a season marked by dominance and rising in the rankings.

“It’s going to be a really long match, really draining, but hopefully, we will take two or three of those first three doubles matches,” Tefft said. “I think that would really help us out.”

Worry not, this Irish team will not serve softly just because they are facing a formidable foe.

“I think we are a lot better than our No. 14 ranking,” Tefft said. “So coming into this weekend I think our whole team wants to prove that.”

And if the Irish do prove it on Friday, they will face the winner of the No. 11 North Carolina, No. 4 Baylor match. But this is the type of road every one of the 16 teams in Madison must take to play on Monday, the fourth and final day of the tournament. A good chunk of the Notre Dame team already knows this.

“Our sophomore year we got to the finals, so all of the juniors and seniors know what it is like to be there,” Tefft pointed out. “That experience will help us a lot.”

That experience, along with the No. 1 doubles pairing of Tefft and freshman Kristy Frilling, lead the Irish to Madison with high expectations and hopes.

“While younger, I think this is the most talented team I have played on so far,” Tefft said. “We are very hopeful and optimistic. We just have to go out there and prove it.”

On Friday, Notre Dame begins what could be a four-day trek to a national championship.

“We could definitely do it,” Tefft said.