ND Women’s Tennis: Irish set to face Illini after 3-game road trip
Joe Meixell | Wednesday, March 12, 2008
After a three-match road trip in which No. 23 Notre Dame went 1-2 over spring break, the Irish return home to face No. 61 Illinois.
In the first two matches last week, the Irish dropped consecutive decisions to North Carolina and No. 2 Georgia Tech before handling Hawaii by a score of 7-0.
The contest against the Rainbow Wahine marked the first time Notre Dame played outdoors all season and the Irish were in top form, never dropping a set in the entire match.
As the new ITA Women’s Tennis rankings were released, the prolific doubles pair of senior Brook Buck and junior Kelcy Tefft received the honor of becoming only the second Irish doubles tandem to be ranked No. 1 nationally since Christian and Catrina Thompson achieved the feat in 2006.
Heading into the match against Illinois, the pair is riding a seven-game winning streak that helped propel the Irish to win the doubles point for six straight matches during the span from Feb. 9-22. Not coincidentally, the Irish record during those six matches was 4-2, showing the value the tag team has had throughout the season.
Irish head coach Jay Louderback knows that the duo’s work ethic and all-around game has launched them into the national spotlight.
“They’re very solid all around,” Louderback said. “They can both serve and volley really well. They have a lot of variety to their game. If they need to volley more, then they will. If not, they can stay back. They can hit their ground strokes. They can do it all.”
Louderback is also well aware that a certain amount of responsibility comes with starting off a match from the top spot.
“Another thing is that when you’re playing from the No. 1 spot, you’re always going to face some solid competition and play some good teams,” he said. “One thing they can do is play well through tight sets and create distance between their opponents…. They can adjust well to the adversity that they face.”
As expected, the top-ranked tandem sets the tone for the entire match, relieving some of the pressure off of the other doubles teams of No. 2 sophomore Kali Krisik and freshman Kristen Rafael and the No. 3 group of sophomores Cosmina Ciobanu and Colleen Rielley.
“Our No. 2 and No. 3 doubles feed off of them, knowing that they probably will get a victory from the 1 spot,” Louderback said. “It really takes the pressure off of them. Our No. 3 team has played especially well. Cosmina and Colleen have looked comfortable behind Buck and Tefft and stand at 9-1 on the year.”
However, the Illini remain the task at hand, and Notre Dame hasn’t honed in on any specific areas of its game, but rather has focused on improving all aspects of play.
“We mainly just went out there to hit balls,” Louderback said. “We didn’t stress one thing in particular, we just wanted to focus and work on everything in general.”
Louderback is aware of the Illini efficiency to challenge their opponents on the road and doesn’t want to let them live up to their reputation.
“They compete really well,” Louderback said. “This year they’ve improved even more and they’ve just been much better overall. One thing that they do well is play on the road. They’re used to coming into foreign environments and coming up with wins so it’s going to be a challenge but we’re looking forward to it.”
The Illini are scheduled to battle the Irish at 3:30 today at the Eck Tennis Pavilion.