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Irish look to make noise in NCAAs

Anne Loughery | Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Nowadays, everyone wants to be a Cinderella. With the start of the NCAA Tournament, each team dreams of a come-from-behind upset, culminating in a championship title. It would be a fairy-tale ending to a season punctuated by both success and failure. No. 29 Notre Dame looks to interrupt No. 38 Iowa’s postseason reverie on Saturday, when the two teams square off in the first round of the tournament at the Vandy Christie Tennis Center at 2 p.m. The winner of the match will advance to the second round of the tournament, and take on either Illinois-Chicago or North-western Sunday at noon. Illinois-Chicago and Northwestern are set to play at 10 a.m. Saturday. Last time, the Hawkeyes (14-9) challenged the Irish (11-11), Notre Dame emerged with a 6-1 win. Coach Jay Louderback cites their regular season victory as an advantage for the Irish. However, defending that win will be a tough chore. “The last time we played them, there were a lot of close matches,” Louderback said. “Beating them a second team will be tough because they’re a very good team.”And with Iowa’s talent-laden team looking for redemption, Notre Dame has little room for error. “Once the NCAA Tournament starts, it’s another season,” Louderback said. “Everything is thrown out the window. There are usually a lot of upsets in the tournament, and we’re hoping to make one of them.”The Irish have conditioned themselves for the postseason with a rigorous schedule. Fifteen of the 20 teams the Irish faced during the regular season have earned spots in the NCAA Tournament, including No. 7 seed Duke, No. 13 seed Texas and No. 14 seed North Carolina. “Everyone’s going to be nervous, but we’ve earned our spot here,” freshman Christian Thompson said. “We’ve played tough teams all season, and the teams we play in the tournament will be tough; we don’t assume any less. But, if we play together and fight like we did against Miami, it will be hard to beat us.” In the Big East Tournament on May 1, top-seeded Notre Dame fell to nationally ranked No. 26 Miami 4-0, with the Big East title at arm’s length. Although they faced an intimidating Miami team, the Irish weren’t ones to shy away from a challenge. “Miami definitely stepped it up two levels, but we were still in every match. We really fought back,” Christian Thompson said. “It could’ve gone either way.” Thompson jumpstarted a rally after the Irish found themselves in a 3-0 deficit. After saving four championship points, Thompson forced a third set in singles against Melissa Applebaum at No. 2. She led the third set 2-1, when Miami clinched the win 4-0. At No. 3 singles, freshman Catrina Thompson also staged a comeback, extending her match into a third set against Mari Toro. Toro, named the Big East’s Most Outstanding Player, rebounded after a 5-4 deficit in the third set to win 7-5 and clinch the win for Miami. After the meet’s outcome was decided, the matches at Nos. 4 and 6 were also abandoned. At No. 4, sophomore Lauren Connelly won her first set 7-5, but fell behind 4-5 in the second set against Staci Stevens. Junior Sarah Jane Connelly trailed Sara Robbins 2-0 in the third set at No. 6.Each of the doubles matches were equally close. At No. 3, Sarah Jane Connelly and senior Emily Neighbours fell to Audrey Banada and Toro 8-6. Lauren Connelly and senior Alicia Salas matched Miami’s win with an 8-6 triumph over Robbins and Stevens. No. 50 Catrina and Christian Thompson were tied 6-6 against No. 36 Applebaum and Megan Bradley, before the Miami duo pulled ahead 8-6 at No. 1. The Thompsons’ performance in the tournament earned them a spot on the Big East All-Tournament team in doubles. Christian, along with No. 23 Salas, also received the honor in singles. All three players received bids for the individual portion of the NCAA Championships, Salas destined for the NCAA Singles Championship and the Thompsons for the NCAA Doubles Championship. The Thompsons are the only all-rookie doubles team in the 32-team field.