There has been no stopping this year’s Stanford women’s tennis team. After upsetting the No. 1 seed Baylor Bears in the quarterfinals, the No. 8 Cardinal continued its run by rolling past No. 5 Notre Dame 4-1 to make it to its first NCAA final since 2006.
After experiencing a few years of steadily declining results, the 2010 program has broken through to surpass all expectations and make it all the way to the final match of the year. Opposite the Cardinal in the championship will be an old foe, No. 3 Florida.
“We’ve played them in so many finals over the years,” said head coach Lele Forood. “It just feels like when you go to a Stanford-Florida final, it kind of feels like the old days again. They were our national rivals for so long.”
Notre Dame put up quite the challenge for Stanford in the semifinals by coming out firing on all cylinders. For only the second time all season, Stanford lost the doubles point. The Fighting Irish won the first match of the day when their No. 2 team upset Stanford’s freshman team of Mallory Burdette and Stacey Tan, 8-3. The Cardinal tied it when the No. 3 team of junior Carolyn McVeigh and sophomore Veronica Li defeated its opponents, 8-4.
With the match score at 1-1, the doubles came down to a matchup between the second- and third-best teams in the country, Stanford’s junior Hilary Barte and senior Lindsay Burdette and Notre Dame’s Kristy Frilling and Kali Krisik, respectively. Tied almost the whole way, Notre Dame’s team held on to win the last two games to secure the 8-6 upset. The Fighting Irish join UCLA as the only two teams to win the doubles point over Stanford this year.
“We didn’t play great in doubles, and Notre Dame played well,” Forood said. “But we had to prove that that didn’t mean just because we couldn’t win the doubles point, we couldn’t win the match.”
The doubles point was as far as Notre Dame was able to get. Coming into singles fired up, Stanford won the first set in five out of six of its matches, including a tiebreaker win by Veronica Li. Li was forced to come back from 5-1 down to eke out the first set.
Mallory Burdette finished her match first, recording a 6-0, 6-1 victory to even the overall score at 1-1. Older sister Lindsay Burdette finished next, seemingly erasing her season struggles in one of her most dominant displays of tennis yet, winning a 6-1, 6-2 decision.
“Their coach came up to Mallory and I today,” Lindsay Burdette said, “and told us that we were monsters out there. He said, ‘you guys outdid us from the second we walked out after the doubles point.’ Our mentality, our positivity, that’s something we’ve all been talking about because a lot of teams don’t have that.”
Next off the court was Stacey Tan, playing tough tennis to stop a late Notre Dame resurgence. Up 6-2, 5-2 and serving for the match, Tan was broken and found herself in a much tighter 5-4 second set. Down 0-30 in the last game, she was able to collect herself and reeled off four points for the win.
“It was on my serve and I lost the first point. Then I lost the second,” Tan said. “I didn’t understand what I was so nervous about. I was winning the match, playing my game, and I thought I should go back to what worked.”
Now up 3-1, Stanford was on the brink of a championship match berth. Barte was struggling to maintain her one-break lead in the second set. At 4-3 in the second set, Barte faced two break points before dropping her serve to tie her match at 4-4. Calling on her usual resolve, Stanford’s No. 1 player all season long broke back for the right to serve out her match. She lost the first point, but reeled off four points to clinch Stanford’s victory over Notre Dame and a long-awaited return to the final.
Every player in Stanford’s lineup has earned a point in this tournament. That only highlights the depth and unity that this team has had all season.
“When a couple of us are struggling, the other people are picking up the slack and getting the job done,” Lindsay Burdette said. “That is what we’ve always been talking about.”
Since the incredible streak of three national championships came to an end in 2006, not a single player on this year’s roster has been in an NCAA final. With totally fresh faces meeting this new experience, Forood is looking forward to seeing how this team handles the pressure.
“It feels really exciting,” Forood said. “No one on this team has been in the finals before, so it’s a new experience for everybody. However, we have the right combination of experience and belief and everybody has played some great matches until this point.”
Stanford will compete in the NCAA championship match today at 11 a.m. PST in Athens, Ga.