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ND Women’s Tennis: Irish encounter squad with a familiar face

Chris Hine | Friday, January 26, 2007

No. 4 Notre Dame begins its dual match season in familiar company today as it squares off against Illinois in Champaign, Ill.

The Fighting Illini are coached by 2001 Notre Dame graduate and former assistant coach Michelle Dasso.

Dasso, who was the ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) Senior of the Year in 2001, was a four-time All-American at Notre Dame and won the Francis Patrick O’Connor Award in 2001. The award is given to one male and one female student-athlete annually for “best exemplifying the spirit of Notre Dame.”

Dasso joined the Illini this season.

“Obviously playing Notre Dame is very special for me,” Dasso said. “I have so much respect for [Irish coach] Jay Louderback as a coach and person. He has been my mentor after having played for him and coaching with him for so many years. … I look forward to seeing some competitive tennis with a ton of hustle this weekend.”

Last season, the Irish finished 27-2, reaching the NCAA quarterfinals. The ITA named Louderback coach of the year and Dasso assistant coach of the year for their success with Notre Dame in 2005-06.

“The players will be psyched for it; Michelle was such always such a tough player and she’ll have them ready to play,” Louderback said. “Our kids will be excited to because they always had a lost of respect for Michelle and what she’s done.”

Notre Dame will have three freshmen – Colleen Rielley, Cosmina Ciobanu and Kali Krisik – making their dual match debuts. Rielley and Ciobanu faced each other in the ITA Midwest Regional Finals in October, with Rielley claiming the title 7-5, 6-4. This was the first time two freshman teammates faced each other in the singles final of that event.

“For them it’s a chance to break the ice and get their first match under their belt,” Louderback said.

The Irish also feature the ITA nationally ranked doubles teams of No. 5 junior Brook Buck and sophomore Kelcy Tefft and No. 11 seniors Catrina and Christian Thompson. Rielley and Catrina Thompson are No. 31 and No. 41, respectively, in the singles’ poll.

After taking on Illinois, Notre Dame will come back to campus to host No. 12 Vanderbilt Sunday at noon at the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The Commodores are one of six teams the Irish will face this season that are in the top 20 of the current ITA poll.

Louderback is confident that his group is ready for the challenging weekend.

“Over Christmas they were on their own and they were good about hitting on their own,” he said. “They all came back and looked good.”