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ND Women’s Tennis: Irish take conference title, fall in NCAAs

Vicky Jacobsen | Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Some seasons are dominated by one player. Some are defined by a key win or loss. And some will be remembered for the way they put every onlooker on edge.

The Irish didn’t dominate every match this spring, but they never failed to keep it interesting.

Notre Dame’s wins weren’t always pretty. Of the 21 full matches the squad played -where the doubles point and all six individual matches were completed – nine were decided by a score of 4-3.

“I really feel like these guys overachieved a lot this year,” Irish coach Jay Louderback said. “I’ve never had teams come back as much this year’s team. We had two matches we were behind 3-0 and won four straight matches to win, 4-3, and we had two matches where we were down 3-1 and came back to win 4-3. It’s just a group that never quits.”

After a successful fall campaign, the No. 24 Irish (18-9) ended the spring season with a 4-0 loss to Michigan (23-5) in the second round of the NCAA tournament May 11.  Notre Dame beat N.C. State, 4-1, in Ann Arbor, Mich., the day before in the opening round.

Louderback said the highlight of the season was capturing the program’s sixth straight Big East title by beating South Florida, 4-1, on April 21 in Notre Dame’s last Big East tournament before leaving for the ACC.

“To win it, down at South Florida against South Florida, took a great effort from our kids,” Louderback said. “We played on a hot-weather day down there, which we definitely weren’t used to because of the spring we had weather-wise. I think that was probably the biggest highlight of the spring so far.”

Junior Britney Sanders unanimously was named the Big East Player of the Year, while freshman Quinn Gleason and junior Jennifer Kellner were also named to the All-Big East team.

“When you lose your top two who were really good you worry about that following year,” Louderback said in reference to Kristy Frilling and Shannon Mathews, two All-Americans who graduated in 2012. “Probably the biggest surprise was how well the players at the top of our lineup played. The kids who played three and four last year really stepped up to play one and two and won a lot of matches. It was great to see them do well.”

The Irish will face significantly tougher competition when they enter the ACC next year – there are five ACC schools, not including Notre Dame, currently ranked in the top 25 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association – but Louderback said he is excited for the coming seasons.

“The Big East was good for us while we were in it,” Louderback said. “But we’re really excited about going ACC. It’s a tough, tough league, a tough conference, but for us we’re really excited to have a chance to go in and play such good schools.”

Although the Irish will lose senior captain Chrissie McGaffigan to graduation, they add several freshmen and hope to see Julie Vrabel remain healthier in her sophomore season. Vrabel is now fully recovered from shoulder surgery that occurred in her senior year of high school.

“Chrissie McGaffigan has done a great job for us this year,” Louderback said. “She’s won a lot of singles matches and is probably our best doubles player. We’ll miss her a lot, but we have a good group of freshmen coming in. I feel like we have the chance to be very, very good.”

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu