The last time these two teams met, Stanford won the 2010 NCAA title. This time, the No. 1 Stanford women’s tennis team (9-0) again defeated No. 2 Florida, 4-2, to win the prestigious midseason ITA National Team Indoor Championships.
“This team, we have a bull’s eye on our back,” said head coach Lele Forood. “We’ve now played through a lot of tough competition and won. I think we’re handling the ranking and the expectations pretty darn well.”
The Cardinal went into the weekend playing very well. The team blanked No. 28 SMU for its third shutout in five matches and had a convincing 5-2 victory over No. 4 UCLA to prepare the team for the stacked lineup at Indoors. The teams competing in this tournament included nine of the top 10 teams and 16 of the top 20.
“It was a grind,” said sophomore Stacey Tan. “Four matches one after another against the best teams in the country, getting used to East Coast time . . . I felt like competing against different schools was kind of like NCAAs again. It was cool to get into that mindset.”
The team’s first opponent was Arkansas, but Stanford, with its five ranked players, overpowered the Razorbacks quickly for a 4-0 win. In the next round, Stanford faced No. 8 Michigan. A surprise upset at No. 1 doubles came when the 22nd-ranked team of Brooke Bolender and Denise Muresan upset Stanford’s third-ranked squad of Barte and Burdette, 8-3. The Card proceeded to drop the doubles point, but fired off four quick singles victories to win the day. Barte got her revenge over No. 8 Muresan, 6-2, 6-4.
“Their doubles was really solid on courts one, two and three,” said freshman Kristie Ahn. “I think we got outplayed on one and three, which doesn’t happen very often, but they were really prepared. In this tournament, every time [we lost doubles,] we weren’t freaking out. We knew they still had a long way to go.”
Now playing in the semifinals, Stanford was up against a very talented No. 4 North Carolina team that included the No. 6 doubles team of Shinann Featherston and Lauren McHale and the No. 13 singles player in Zoe De Bruycker. Regardless, the Cardinal blanked the Tar Heels, 4-0. No. 3 Barte/Burdette defeated No. 6 Featherston/McHale, 9-7, to clinch the doubles point, and Stanford had wins on courts one, two and four in singles.
In the final, Stanford faced No. 2 Florida, who came into the match at 10-0 for the season. The Gators’ singles lineup includes five ranked players: No. 7 Allie Will, No. 19 Joanna Mather, No. 31 Olivia Janowicz, No. 36 Lauren Embree and No. 40 Alex Cercone. The two programs appeared destined to meet in the finals in a matchup of No. 1 versus No. 2.
Despite struggles at the second spot, the Cardinal managed to win the doubles point, a reversal of what happened last year in the NCAA finals when the Gators took the doubles. Barte/Burdette recorded an upset of the No. 1 team of Will and Sofie Oyen, 8-5. On court three, McVeigh/Tan defeated Cercone and Janowicz, 8-6.
Florida recovered from the doubles by quickly winning matches at the second and sixth spots to go up, 2-1. McVeigh lost in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1, and Burdette lost to Embree, 6-4, 6-4.
“She lost to a longtime nemesis who is a very good player,” Forood said. “[Embree] played No. 1 for them last year. [Burdette] got down early in both sets and then came back, but couldn’t quite get there in the end.”
Stanford’s phenomenal freshmen delivered, though, coming off the court in succession to put Stanford back on top 3-2. Ahn finished with a 6-4, 6-2 win. Gibbs won a tiebreaker and then took a 7-6 (2), 6-3 victory for the lead.
“I had never been this pumped before,” Ahn laughed. “My hand was shaking after the first set and after the match.”
Perhaps one of the stars of the weekend, Tan then clinched the tournament on court five with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 victory.
“Stacey was fabulous the last few days,” Forood said. “She had some big wins the past few days. She was really composed and really won the mental battle against her opponents. It was a great weekend for her.
“It was a nice experience, especially since we won it,” Forood continued. “It’s the kind of thing where you play a bunch of big matches back to back. You have different people get in with singles and doubles, and it feels like a great team effort when you finish this tournament. We’re a young team, a talented team, clearly, but you have to go through a few challenges too.”
Stanford will host Oregon and Washington State this weekend, taking on the Ducks at 1:30 p.m. on Friday at Taube Tennis Stadium.