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Women’s Tennis: Irish take home Big East title

Dan Tapetillo | Monday, April 24, 2006

The defending champs and top-seed Irish went into the Big East championships with high expectations – and they didn’t disappoint.

No. 2 Notre Dame downed second-seeded No. 37 South Florida 4-1 in the finals of the tournament in Tampa, Fla. Sunday.

Not only did the win help Notre Dame retain its title from last season, but the Irish also collected their seventh title overall after joining the Big East in 1995.

Despite the successes the Irish have found this season, they never looked past any

of their competitors en route to the finals for the conference title.

“We came in really confident, and we knew the match [against South Florida] was going to be a challenging one,” senior Kiki Stastny said. “We didn’t underestimate them, and we were going to fight for the win.”

Notre Dame began the contest with a pair of doubles wins – its 25th consecutive doubles point. No. 6 juniors Catrina and Christian Thompson topped the Bulls’

No. 10 Gabriela Duch and Neyssa Etienne 8-3.

No. 38 sophomore Brook Buck and freshman Kelcy Tefft followed up their win, clinching the point after downing South Florida’s Liz Cruz and Iciri Rai 8-4.

The final match between seniors Lauren Connelly and Stastny and South Florida’s

Luisa Obardo and Courtney Vernon was abandoned, as the Irish already held a 5-4 lead.

Coach Jay Louderback believes the doubles point has played a significant factor in the team’s success all season.

“We had such a good team effort, and Nos. 1 and 2 played really well,” he

said. “If we’re ever close in a match, it is doubles that carries us.”

In singles, first off the court was No. 31 Catrina Thompson, who defeated No. 63 Etienne 6-2, 6-2.

The next win came from Connelly, who topped Obardo 7-6 (7-2), 6-3. The final and

clinching victory for Notre Dame came from Stastny, who eclipsed Rai 3-6, 6-1, 6-1.

“I had a rough start at the beginning, so I was [focusing on] keeping the ball in play,” Stastny said. “[Further into the contest] I was playing more confidently and consistently. So it was slow start, but strong finish.”

No. 57 Vernon claimed the only victory for South Florida, defeating Notre Dame’s No. 99 Christian Thompson 6-2, 6-0.

Thompson’s loss was the only defeat the Irish suffered throughout the entire championship .

Louderback said the determining factor in the win was experience.

“We have played such as tough schedule this year. South Florida is a good team, they just haven’t played as tough of a schedule, and that experience really helped us out,” he said. “We played a lot on the road against good teams, so playing here didn’t affect us.”

However, the one variable that was difficult to adjust to were the weather conditions.

“It was really hot and humid, and we did a great job of surviving that,” Louderback said.

“We also didn’t have really long matches [leading up to the finals], so we were pretty well-rested.”

Notre Dame returns to the courts on May 12 in the first round of the NCAA Championships.

The draw will be announced on May 3.