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Women’s Tennis: Duos’ success leads way through tough schedule

Douglas Farmer | Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Posting 24 wins against only four losses, the Irish filled the spring with highlights and success. In one of the best seasons in program history, Notre Dame (24-4, 5-0 Big East) made it to the semifinals of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships, reeled off an eight-match winning streak, won the Big East Championship without suffering defeat and earned the fifth seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Entering the season, the Notre Dame held the No. 17 ranking in the polls. The team however, had a much brighter outlook for the season.

“With the bunch we had returning and two freshmen we knew could play a very big part coming in, I felt we were a top five team and a team that could contend for a national championship,” head coach Jay Louderback said.

The team opened the season with a convincing 6-1 victory at Ohio State. Then the team went down to Arkansas and defeated both Pepperdine and host Arkansas to qualify for Indoor Championships ranked 14th.

“We knew it would be tough to qualify at Arkansas,” Louderback said. “[The victory] did give a hint to what we had for the season, especially playing on the road.”

At the Indoor Championships the Irish exceeded many expectations. First the team defeated No. 5 Stanford 4-3, and then topped No. 4 Baylor 4-3. The Irish fell to No. 1 Northwestern in the semifinals, but a statement had been made.

“It showed us how good we could be,” senior captain Kelcy Tefft said. “All of us felt we had a very good team, and then we went out and proved it to ourselves and everyone else, which gave us some extra confidence.”

Following the defeat to Northwestern, Notre Dame rolled to eight straight victories before falling on the road to No. 7 Georgia Tech. All season long, the Irish only lost to the stiffest competition, falling in rematches to Baylor, 5-2, and closely Northwestern, 4-3.

“Losing to those types of teams doesn’t hurt the confidence much,” Louderback said. “It’s tough to go through the year playing so many ranked teams. To not lose to any outside the Top 10 is not easy.”

Indeed the schedule Louderback put together for the 2009 campaign was tough. Notre Dame played top 25 teams 12 times, and only lost in four of those matches. Through the whole season, the Irish faced 14 teams in the NCAA Tournament, and defeated ten of them.

“It was really rough this year. We traveled a lot and Coach dropped a few teams in order to add teams like Baylor and Georgia Tech, top 10 teams,” Tefft said. “That is the way I would have it. We play the top teams every year so when we get to the NCAAs we know what we have to do beat those teams.”

To conclude the season, Notre Dame went undefeated in Big East competition. In the Big East Championships, the Irish dominated en route to its ninth overall Big East title.

“One of our goals this year was to win the Big East Championship,” Tefft said. “We were glad to do that.”

In doing so, Notre Dame nearly swept Big East accolades. Tefft earned her second consecutive Big East Player of the Year, while freshman, and Tefft’s doubles partner, Kristy Frilling was honored as Big East Freshman of the Year. Joining the two as members of the All-Big East team where juniors Cosmina Ciobanu and Kali Krisik along with freshman Shannon Mathews.

“We were very deserving to have so many people on the all-tournament team,” Tefft said. “We were the best team there, and had the best players there.”

After such thorough season long success, the Irish were selected as the fifth seed in the NCAA tournament, and hosted the first two rounds.

Notre Dame defeated Illinois-Chicago 4-0 and then topped Michigan 4-1 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Irish will face No. 12 Clemson Friday at College Station, Texas.