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Tar Heels up next in round of 16

Dan Maloof | Friday, May 18, 2007

The No. 6 seed Irish will take their 27-3 overall record to Athens, Ga., when they take on No. 11 North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament round of 16 today.

Having easily defeated Illinois-Chicago and No. 23 Michigan by scores of 4-0, Notre Dame will try to keep the momentum going against the Tar Heels, whom the Irish defeated 5-2 Feb. 16.

Notre Dame head coach Jay Louderback understands, however, that the matches are only going to get tougher the deeper the team goes into the tournament.

“We knew we’d have a tough match in the second round with Michigan but we played well,” Louderback said. “Especially once the first round is over, from then on you know you’re going to play someone good the rest of the time, so you just have to be prepared.

“Each match now gets tougher as you go.”

Notre Dame, who finished the regular season ranked No. 2 overall, also earned the one-seed in last month’s Big East tournament for the 11th time in 12 years.

The Irish were able to cruise through the first few rounds of the Big East with convincing victories over Connecticut and Marquette, but in the finals they were upset by second-seeded South Florida 4-3.

Bouncing back strong from tough losses has been characteristic of Notre Dame’s season. The Irish have lost only three matches overall and never dropped two in a row.

The senior leadership of twins Christian and Catrina Thompson has been instrumental in the team’s success and ability to overcome any adversity it’s faced this season, Louderback said.

“They’ve done a great job, especially here at the end,” he said. “Once the Big East got over, they’ve really done a great job of keeping everyone together and forgetting about that last match in the Big East tournament and getting ready for the NCAA Tournament. They do a lot of it by example too by working hard in practice and putting in extra time there as well.”

Perhaps most importantly, the success and notoriety of the All-America doubles pairing ranked 12th overall in the country will also help the Irish long after they have graduated.

“I think the biggest difference with them has been in recruiting,” Louderback said. “They were two of the best kids in the country and decided to come here to school, and since they’ve been here, I think our recruiting has improved. This will help us down the line as well.”

Headlined by rising senior Brook Buck, the Irish will return eight players next season and look to continue their Big East dominance. Coming back for Notre Dame will be rising senior Bailey Louderback, rising juniors Katie Potts and Kelcy Tefft, as well as rising sophomores Cosmina Ciobanu, Kali Krisik, Colleen Rielley and Kellie O’Flynn.

At this point in the season, Louderback said he is not concerned about the youth of his team during the NCAA Tournament because age isn’t as important.

“The freshman class is a great class,” Louderback said. “They’ve done a good job and won a lot of doubles and singles matches. By this time of year we feel like we really don’t have any freshmen, we’ve been through a lot of big matches and played a lot. Even though it’s their first year, they really aren’t freshmen anymore this time of year.”

Aside from the three scattered losses during the season, the Irish cruised through the regular season, highlighted by a 16-match winning streak that spanned nearly two months.

In addition to the success of the team, the Irish have also captured their share of individual accolades throughout the year.

The Thompsons, Buck and Tefft were each selected to the NCAA Individual Tennis Championships, where Catrina Thompson will be competing in singles and doubles for the third consecutive year.