By Jose Saldana
When high-seeded women’s tennis programs found out that Stanford women’s tennis (22-3) was ranked as the 15th-seed for the NCAA Round of 16, they were probably quivering in their sneakers at the thought of having to play of the hottest teams this side of the galaxy.
Their fears were realized when the Cardinal defeated second-seeded UNC (28-4) 4-1 in emphatic fashion on Thursday and followed that up with a quick 4-0 thrashing of seventh-seeded Georgia (18-7) on Saturday in Winston-Salem, NC.
“I think we are mentally a strong team,” Stanford head coach Lele Forood. “We have two players (Caroline Lampl and Melissa Lord) who have been part of winning a national championship. They define to the rest of the team that you need to be there and be ready physically and mentally for four matches to win a national championship.”
Stanford will face three-seeded Duke in the NCAA semifinals on Monday to determine which program will play for a national title.
All the players have stepped up, as the program tends to do, but junior Melissa Lord has been exceptional. Against the Tar Heels in the No. 2 spot, Lord, who ranks 40th, ran through No. 26 Alle Sanford for a 6-4, 6-1 victory. Then, against the Bulldogs, she made quick work of No. 75 Kennedy Shaffer with a 6-1, 6-2 win.
Lord is now 13-0 in NCAA team matches, which means she rises to the occasion during the Cardinal’s annual run for the title.
Sophomore Emily Arbuthnott, ranked 43rd, has been as consistent as they come in the No. 4 spot, winning both her singles matches against her opponents from UNC (6-3, 6-1) and Georgia (6-4, 6-2).
Although in hindsight, the Cardinal blew through the Tar Heels, it didn’t line up in Stanford’s favor. UNC was ranked No. 1 in the country despite being the second-seed and played the match 90 minutes from Chapel-Hill.
The Tar Heels even took the coveted doubles point in a close 7-5 finish.
But when the singles match began, the Cardinal took over. Lord tied the overall match 1-1, then sophomore Emma Higuchi and Arbuthnott won their matches in straight sets, giving Stanford a 3-1 advantage.
The clincher fell on the shoulders of freshman Janice Shin, and she delivered with a 6-3, 6-2 victory to give the Cardinal a 4-1 victory.
“Janice has been been a star. Just incredibly clutch,” Forood said. “She has been the clincher now a couple times in this tournament and she is getting the hang of it. But everybody played awesome today.”
Even with the pressure of facing the top team in the country and being down after the doubles point, the Cardinal displayed the trademark resilience that has been reflected throughout the history of the nation’s winningest program.
“We like to think we’ve got a lot of points once we get to the singles, but we were disappointed after the doubles,” Forood said. “It was pretty close overall. After doubles, we had a little anger, a little frustration and I think we channeled it pretty well in how we came out in singles.”
Stanford showed more composure in the doubles match against Georgia, winning it on the strength of the Caroline Lampl/Kimberly Yee (6-3) and Lord/Shin (6-4) doubles matches.
“Today we weren’t as nervous on the court like we were the other day,” Lampl said. “We knew if we played our game and we were aggressive, we would be just fine. In the doubles, we were aggressive and that is how we normally are able to win the doubles point.”
Ferood agreed with the junior’s sentiment.
“We started better in the doubles,” Ferood said. “We were pretty solid on all three courts and that was a good opening for us. I thought we came out well in the singles and got ahead in a lot of first sets. We were competitive in every match and were able to pull away a little bit at the end to win it.”
Then, during the singles matches, the Cardinal cleaned up with Lord again finishing her victory first, then Lampl and Arbuthnott acted as the clincher to send Stanford to the NCAA semifinals.
The Cardinal is now one round away from the final match with three-seeded Duke in the way. The match will take place in Winston-Salem at 7 a.m. PT. The semifinals will be streamed at http://www.wakeforestsports.com/ncaatennis/.
“I give Stanford a lot of credit for losing the doubles point and coming back in singles,” North Carolina head coach Brian Kalbas said after losing to the Cardinal. “They really played well, seemed like every big play and opportunity went their way. We didn’t so much lose: rather, they just grabbed the win. They’ve won a lot of championships and are a very confident team. Down the stretch they were believers.”
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.