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Irish face tall order against No. 17 Illini

Anne Loughery | Thursday, March 4, 2004

The teams are ranked close to each other, but Thursday’s meet between No. 17 Illinois and No. 19 Notre Dame looks to be a classic David and Goliath match up. “They’re a big team,” coach Jay Louderback said. “You’d think they were a basketball team walking around because they’re so tall.”Louderback cited the height, strength and emotional playing style of the Illini as the primary challenges the Irish (7-1) will face during the meet. Senior Jennifer McGaffigan, ranked nationally at No. 14 in singles and No. 7 in doubles, will also present a challenge to the Irish. McGaffigan and doubles partner Cynthya Goulet boast a 16-5 record, including 6-1 this spring as the No. 1 doubles team.”They’re an explosive team,” Louderback said. “They also play with a lot of emotion. They’re always yelling at each other across the courts, which can be a distraction for our kids.”On Friday, the traditionally solid Illini (5-2) suffered a 5-2 loss to No. 4 Washington. They then defeated Western Michigan, 6-1, on Saturday.Louderback is confident the Irish will remain poised despite having to face such skilled opponents.”I feel really good about how our team competes,” Louderback said. “Our girls do a good job at getting each other pumped up. They really get the momentum of the match to swing back our way and I think they’ll do that [today].”The Irish return to the courts after a 5-2 win against Indiana Sunday. They claimed the doubles point and four of the six singles points against the No. 26 Hoosiers. The win marked the seventh consecutive Irish victory.Last year’s match between Notre Dame and Illinois resulted in a 6-1 victory for the Irish. Notre Dame claimed the doubles point and five of the six singles matches. Louderback recalled that last year’s win did not come easily.”It was a tight match,” he said. “We started off strong in doubles last year, and that’s what gave us momentum going into singles.”Though the Irish are on a seven-match doubles winning streak, Louderback has continued to concentrate on doubles play during practice in addition to drills. Gaining the doubles point has been of utmost importance to the team this year. “As the season goes on, you start to look at singles a lot more and you can’t do that,” Louderback said. “Then your doubles start to slip. It really makes a difference when we win the doubles point because it takes the pressure off of our singles players.”Following today’s match, the Irish face a tough stretch of opponents, beginning with No. 6 Duke on March 10 and No. 36 Tennessee on March 13.