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ND Women’s Tennis

Season Recap: ND rebounds to turn around season

| Friday, May 16, 2014

The transition from one conference to another can cause a team to sink into a slide. 

However, that did not happen to No. 28 Notre Dame, who qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the 19th season in a row after making the jump from the Big East to the ACC. 

According to Irish coach Jay Louderback, his team was more than ready to meet the challenges of the transition. 

“The thing that’s been good with our kids all year is that they’ve all come out and played hard in every match,” Louderback said. “So I feel good about the end of the year.”

Senior Jennifer Kellner delivers a backhanded hit in Notre Dame's 4-3 loss to Georgia Tech on Feb. 21 at Eck Tennis Pavilion.Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Senior Jennifer Kellner delivers a backhanded hit in Notre Dame’s 4-3 loss to Georgia Tech on Feb. 21 at Eck Tennis Pavilion.

As a testament to Notre Dame’s confidence, the Irish (16-9, 8-6 ACC) ripped off a seven-match winning streak to close out the regular season, including six straight victories against ACC teams. 

This streak was a far cry from the beginning of the conference season for the Irish, when they dropped four straight matches to ranked ACC rivals No. 19 Georgia Tech, No. 12 Miami, No. 5 Duke and No. 14 Clemson.

Louderback said he was pleased with how well the team handled a difficult conference schedule.

“I feel like we were put into a tough situation right off because we played so many of the top ACC teams,” Louderback said. “We played the top six ACC teams in our first seven conference matches. For us, it was very hard to play those teams, and [half] of the matches were on the road, so it was a tough start.”

“I thought we handled it well, and by the middle of the year and towards the end of the season, the matches we should’ve and needed to win in the ACC we did. And that’s always tough, knowing that you need to win those matches. But we did.”

Louderback said the team’s win against Oklahoma State on Jan. 26 stood out as particularly impressive, as the Irish knocked off the then-No. 29 Cowgirls (16-9, 7-2 Big XII) by a score of 4-0. In particular, Louderback noted the way the team bounced back from a recent loss to secure the win.

Louderback also said he was pleased with the number of players who stepped up this season, in particular the freshman trio of Mary Closs, Jane Fennelly and Monica Robinson.

“We’ve had a lot of them,” Louderback said. “Our three freshmen I think have done a good job. College tennis is so different from juniors, and by the end of the year and even halfway through the season, you could tell that they weren’t freshmen anymore. You knew that they’d been around, and they were great with travel.”

In addition, Louderback praised the play of the seniors and the veteran leadership they provided.

“I feel like our seniors have really done a good job taking on a leadership role this year,” Louderback said. “We got a lot out of them this year. [On] our top two doubles teams this year, three of [the players] are seniors, and I feel that this group’s done a really good job.”

Senior Britney Sanders anchored the veteran corps for Notre Dame, playing 23 matches in the No. 1 spot and earning third team all-conference honors.

Louderback said he views the season as a success overall as he looks to the future.

“I think the biggest thing is our kids getting the feel of the ACC,” Louderback said. “We were thrown in with a tough first-year schedule where we’d play at home one on Friday and one away on Sunday, just crazy travel. I think next year our schedule is much better on terms of travel. And I think that’s going to make things easier.”

The Irish have maintained their momentum from the end of the season into the NCAA tournament. 

Despite entering the tournament unseeded, Notre Dame advanced to the round of 16 after beating DePaul in the first round and then upsetting No. 16 Northwestern on its home court, 4-3. Sophomore Julie Vrabel clinched the win against Northwestern (20-7, 10-1 Big Ten) at the No. 6 singles spot.

With the win over the Wildcats, Notre Dame advances to the Sweet 16 in Athens, Ga., where they will play Alabama on May 15.

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