ND Women’s Tennis
Irish find early success and rebound to advance in postseason
After falling to UCLA in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, the Irish returned in 2017 aiming for more success.
Notre Dame (18-10, 7-7 ACC) opened the season with two 7-0 sweeps of Western Michigan and Wright State at home, before winning 6-1 on the road against Pittsburgh. Although the Irish then lost their first match to then-No. 13 Michigan 6-1, the squad started to get hot, with a March 17 win over No. 23 Wake Forest, marking the longest win streak for the program since 2010. The win over the Demon Deacons (18-11, 7-7) marked Notre Dame’s first over a top-25 team since 2014, and at 14-1 the team had already equaled last year’s win total and was off to its best program start since 2009, in which the Irish went 28-5 and reached the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
Irish head coach Jay Louderback said the successful start to the season was due, in part, to a back-loaded schedule, but that his team’s confidence increased immeasurably during that win streak.
“I feel like we started strong, but our ACC schedule was back-loaded this year with four of the top six teams we played at the very end of the year, which made the beginning more manageable,” Louderback said. “But we won three or four close 4-3 matches early, and we just kept winning. It was great. I felt like our confidence was very good.”
But with Wake Forest marking the first of a streak of 10 conference matches for the Irish, the always-tough ACC proved a challenge. Notre Dame went 2-7 over the team’s final nine matches, and headed into the ACC tournament hoping to turn things around. While the Irish were able to defeat Pitt (3-16, 0-14) 4-0 in the first round, the team was unable to repeat the same success against Clemson, and fell 4-0 in the second round.
“When we ran into three of the top ACC teams, we lost a tight 4-3 match to Duke, and they’re in the final 16 right now, and even though we played well, it was a tight match, when you start losing a couple, confidence goes and we started to struggle a little bit with confidence,” Louderback said on his team’s end-of-year woes.
With a final record of 17-9, Notre Dame achieved the program’s 22nd consecutive NCAA appearance with a first round matchup against Kansas. Looking to pick up its first NCAA win since 2014, the Irish went up 2-0. Kansas (13-11, 4-5 Big 12) battled back in singles to even the match at 2-2. While Broda won her singles match to put the Irish up one, the Jayhawks battled back to even up the series at 3. With the season on the line, Miller battled back from a 1-4 deficit in the third set to eventually clinch Notre Dame’s win in a 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 victory.
“Then, I felt like we were starting over with the NCAAs. We had two weeks off, which we don’t usually get during the season,” Louderback said of the success in the first round. “We were able to restart and act like it was a new season and I felt like we had a really, very good win against Kansas.
“ … I think [the win against Kansas] really will help us. And, we both were ranked within two spots of each other, so we knew it was going to be a tight, tight match, and to win the way we did with Allison Miller — she was down a match point — and she came through, she won that one, won the next two games to win for us.”
In the second round, Notre Dame faced off against second-ranked Ohio State, who boasted the nation’s best singles player in sophomore Francesca Di Lorenzo, and although the Irish battled, their postseason run ended in a 4-0 defeat.
Notre Dame graduates three seniors in Monica Robinson, Mary Closs and Jane Fennelly, each of whom Louderback said will be missed.
“They all three did a great job this year. We felt like for us to do well this year, all three of them were going to have to have good years, maybe their best years and they really did,” Louderback said. “Monica stepped up, played No. 4 as a freshman and ended up this year playing No. 1. She had some huge wins early in the year. … She is a great competitor, fights hard on the court and that is something that we’ll miss.
“You always knew Mary was going to play as hard as she could possibly play. She stepped up and ended up playing No. 1 doubles this year — she started off playing No. 2.
“Jane played doubles all year and was in and out of the singles lineup this year, but played a lot of singles in the past. The big thing with her was that every day in practice, she was there and she was going to work. … She kept trying to get better, even as a senior and that is something that, hopefully the younger kids see that.”