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ND Women’s Tennis: Home cooking

Chris Allen | Friday, April 23, 2010

The Big East championships will serve as another home match for the No. 5 Irish as they move to the Courtney Tennis Center to seek their third straight Big East title and their 10th overall.

As the top seed in the tournament, the Irish (19-3) will begin their title defense Friday morning as they take on the eighth-seeded West Virginia squad. West Virginia (16-6) defeated Cincinnati (11-12) 4-2 in a play-in game Thursday, sweeping the doubles matches in the process. The Irish did not face the Mountaineers this season, but head coach Jay Louderback said he expects a tough match in the opening round.

“West Virginia had a long close match today with Cincinnati,” Louderback said. “It was good because we hadn’t had a chance to watch them play before. I was very impressed with their doubles. They won the doubles match very quickly against Cincinnati. That was pretty impressive”

First singles player and sophomore Kristy Frilling will face off against West Virginia’s Stephanie LaFortune, who will look to bounce back after suffering a 6-0, 6-0 loss in the opening round match. The group of seniors, headlined by Cosmina Ciobanu, who has not lost a match in singles this season, will look to reach their fourth conference title game in as many years and win their third title. In order to do so, they would have to play three matches in three days, something that the Irish have been preparing for but something that will still pose challenges, especially to the Irish doubles teams.

“I think it’s especially good for us, early in the tournament, to play a team with good doubles,” Louderback said. “It’s good for us to get a good test immediately at the beginning of the tournament in the doubles. We’re trying to get as many outdoor matches in while we can before NCAAs.”

If Notre Dame pulls off the win over West Virginia, their next opponent would be either 4th seeded Syracuse (19-2) or 5th seeded Marquette (13-13) in the semifinals on Saturday, with the winner playing in the finals on Sunday.

The Irish are looking to build upon unprecedented success in the conference tournament since they joined the Big East in 1995. In 15 seasons, the Irish have made the final match 14 times, and won nine. These titles include wins in the first two seasons the Irish played in the Big East. Historically, the Irish are 53-2 against the other 11 teams in the Big East tournament field, including a perfect 4-0 this season. Regardless of this historically dominant résumé, Louderback knows the Irish will need to be at their best against tough competition.

“I think, for where we are right now, we really feel like this is one of the best Big East tournaments we’re going to have because the teams are the strongest overall I can remember,” Louderback said.

The Irish title defense begins Friday at 9 a.m. against West Virginia, with the semifinal match to be played at noon Saturday and the finals to be played at 9 a.m. Sunday, all at the Courtney Tennis Center.