Stanford women’s tennis rings in the New Year ranked No. 2 behind the Florida Gators, the same team it lost the NCAA title to last May after entering the postseason as the overwhelming favorite. Its slip from the top spot is not the only difference from last year–the Card graduated half of last spring’s national championship doubles pair, Hilary Barte, as well as Carolyn McVeigh and Jennifer Yen–but returns seven players and adds one freshman. Roster updates aside, the Cardinal is ready for a fresh start and a new mentality–“No regrets.”
“In last year’s final match, we had already overcome so many obstacles and achieved so much, and I know each player fought her heart out,” explained senior captain Veronica Li. “Everyone said, ‘No regrets.’ We would all much rather lose on this team than win with any other.”
Li is the sole senior on this year’s squad and has taken the reins in piloting the team. Helping to provide leadership are juniors Mallory Burdette, Natalie Dillon and Stacey Tan, and sophomores Nicole Gibbs, Kristie Ahn and Amelia Herring. Ellen Tsay, the Cardinal’s lone freshman, is the latest Stanford tennis player to enter college as the No. 1 high school recruit.
“Ellen is very driven and independent,” Burdette noted. “She’s a double-threat because she’s very calm and patient, but can also attack and be very aggressive, especially in doubles. I see her playing the role of our ‘rock’ because she’s so solid.”
While Tsay may be the “rock,” Burdette hopes to “be the best leader that I can be and take care of all of the little details on the team so that, when we take the court, everybody can just focus on tennis.”
Burdette’s efforts in helping the team run smoothly are noticed by her teammates.
“Mallory is like my co-captain,” Li said. “She takes care of all the tedious work and really knits the team together.”
Li pointed out that Burdette’s meticulousness allows her to concentrate on one of the challenges a new team faces every year–to take a group of some of the most gifted individual tennis players in the nation and mesh that into one championship contending team.
“Everyone knows that tennis is an individual sport,” she acknowledged, “and a team setting is a huge change from what we were all used to in the juniors. This year is no different in that we have so many independent, strong-willed talents, but we need to realize that we are all charging along the same path and should have the same goals.”
“That’s how we can win,” she added.
The Cardinal will have to wait to test its team cohesion until Feb. 1, when it faces UC-Davis at home. This weekend, the team will be split into two groups for two separate individual tournaments. Burdette, Gibbs, Tan and Dillon will all be traveling to Las Vegas to represent Stanford in the Freeman Invitational, while Ahn, Herring, Tsay and Li will be playing down in Palm Springs in the National Collegiate Tennis Classic.
“We get to compete against players from other schools instead of playing each other in one tournament,” Burdette explained. “These tournaments allow everyone to improve their individual rankings and serve as a gauge for us as we move into the dual season. Whether we do really well or not, we will each get a feel for what we need to improve upon.”
The team’s flexible practice style has allowed for such improvement, with a format that encourages individual tune-ups.
“The coaches are very receptive to our opinions and very in touch with our difference practice and playing styles,” she said. “It’s usually a combination of what the coaches think we need to work on as a team as well as more personalized instruction.”
Doubles play has been another focus of recent practices. With the graduation of her former partner, Burdette will now be playing with Gibbs at the top of the doubles ladder.
“[Gibbs] and I have a similar chemistry out there on the doubles court that I felt with Hilary when we first started playing,” she said. “So it was a very smooth transition for me, and I think the sky is the limit for us as a doubles team.”
Although Li explained that this year’s ladder is not yet cemented, Cardinal fans can be sure that fine tennis will be on display yet again at the Farm. With a multitude of strong, young teams such as Duke and UCLA on the schedule, the squad is anxious to begin competing again.
“Being ranked No. 2 behind one of our biggest rivals definitely fuels our fire,” she said. “I think I can speak for everyone when I say we are super excited for the opportunity to play.”