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ND Women’s Tennis

Irish host Broncos, Jaguars to kick off new year

| Friday, January 17, 2014

The No. 21 Irish will debut their mix of underclassmen and experienced leaders Saturday when they host dual meets against Western Michigan and IUPUI, the first dual meet experience of the season for all three teams.

Notre Dame competed at the Western Michigan Super Challenge in November, and the Irish typically play against Western Michigan every season. IUPUI, however, is a new opponent for Notre Dame. Irish coach Jay Louderback said that scouting matters less for the first matches of the season, so he will focus more on getting all his players court time.

“We really haven’t done any scouting on them [IUPUI],” Louderback said. “I know some of their kids because they’ve got quite a few kids from this area who I saw when they were younger. For us, it’s just getting into the season and getting a chance to play. With two matches, we can get a lot of kids in. We won’t play the same lineup in both matches.”

As for Western Michigan, the Broncos feature senior Kathleen Hawkins, who recently received a No. 55 national ranking from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). The ranking is the highest ever for a player from Western Michigan.

Seven players return for Notre Dame this season, and three freshmen will play their first spring matches. The freshmen experienced their first college tennis competition during fall tournaments, but the spring meets will challenge the talented young group in new ways, Louderback said.

“The biggest thing with the freshman is even though they played tournaments in the fall and they traveled with everyone, they haven’t played a dual match, which is different from anything they’ve ever done before,” Louderback said. “You’re not just playing for yourself; you’re playing for your team. Playing a match for a point for your team takes a couple matches for them to get used to.”

Senior Britney Sanders earned Big East Player of the Year honors last season and played No. 1 singles. Sanders, along with fellow seniors Jennifer Kellner and Julie Sabacinski, will help lead the freshmen, Louderback said. Seniors in the past have enjoyed the leadership responsibilities.

“It’s a big thing for the seniors,” Louderback said. “We’ve got three of them who have played a lot for us in their three years. … The experience they have will be a really big thing for our freshman and sophomores. We’ve got some young ones who haven’t played a lot.”

Leadership duties shouldn’t distract the upperclassmen from focusing on their own matches, since the seniors can lead by showing the underclassmen quality tennis, according to Louderback.

“Part of it is them playing well, playing hard and setting a good example,” Louderback said.

This season, because of the wealth of senior experience, Notre Dame will debut new doubles pairings. Louderback said he will split up Sanders and Sabacinski, who played together last season, to spread out his seniors on the doubles teams. Kellner will also have a new partner after Chrissie McGaffigan’s graduation as the team’s only senior in 2013.

“We will have one senior on each of our doubles teams,” Louderback said. “All three [seniors] have played No. 1 doubles at times, so we know what we’ve got with each of those seniors on those doubles teams. You never know when you’ll have to mix up teams, but we feel really good about our seniors.”

The Irish kick off the dual meet season Saturday against Western Michigan at noon, then will take on IUPUI at 5 p.m., both at the Eck Tennis Center.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu

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