No one would have guessed that Stanford would have been the last team standing in the NCAA Tournament this year. In March, the team was ranked 46th, a historical low for the Cardinal. Three of its seven games had been losses and junior star Melissa Lord was out with an injury. Still, in typical comeback kid fashion, the team saw a season full of tight wins and last-minute points, leading them straight into the NCAA Tournament. With one final match left and Lord back in action, the Stanford Cardinal prevailed.
So, a 20-match win streak ending with the NCAA banner held high is how Stanford women’s tennis will remember the 2017-2018 season. On Monday, the team saw a tight 4-2 win in the semifinals against No. 3 Duke, with junior Caroline Lampl stepping up to the plate in a three-set victory that sent the team into the finals.
On Tuesday morning in Winstom-Salem, North Carolina, the team notched its 19th NCAA championship against No. 1 Vanderbilt (27-4, 12-1 SEC), finishing 4-3.
In 2016, the Cardinal (24-3, 9-0 Pac-12) managed an awesome feat when it won the NCAA championships as the lowest ranked (No. 15) seed. In 2013, it took the championships by storm as the No. 12 ranked team and in 2010 it won while ranked eighth. To be precise, Stanford has managed to win 20 of its last 23 NCAA Tournament matches as the lower-ranked team.
This year, the team was No. 16, managing once again to outdo considerably higher-ranked competitors, including Duke, Vanderbilt, No. 2 North Carolina in the Round of 16 and No. 7 Georgia in the Quarterfinals of the NCAAs. Despite the Cardinal’s tremendous win streak, the NCAA title felt largely improbable given their lower ranking and arduous competition.
The women’s tennis team has now won just over half – 19 out of 37 – of its NCAA title matches. The 153-19 record in the NCAA Tournament must feel like a satisfying accomplishment for a team that is often one of the lowest seeds in the tournament.
Going into the final matches, Stanford had a lot to live up to. Besides being significantly lower in the national rankings than first-place Vanderbilt, the team was also carrying the weight of a 7-0 loss to their adversaries in early February. Additionally, the day started out with Vanderbilt securing a 1-0 lead after winning the doubles point, furthering the gap between the two teams.
This, though, was the Cardinal’s call to action. Sophomore Emma Higuchi quickly secured a 6-3, 6-2 win over junior Summer Dvorak, tying the teams 1-1. Caroline Lampl, on fire after an empowering win against Duke, earned another point for the team in a 6-4, 6-2 victory. The junior started out the season with a turbulent 9-6 record before finding her groove and going 12-1 in the final stretch.
The Cardinal’s opponents had a comeback moment as freshman Michaela Gordon took a hit in a 7-6 (3), 6-3 loss against No. 11 fifth-year senior Astra Sharma, once again putting the teams on an even playing field. Not for the first time this season, Stanford found itself picking up momentum as the end neared and everything was on the line. Freshman Janice Shin took it in stride, defeating sophomore Emma Kurtz in a 6-3, 6-3 match.
Yet another obstacle emerged after sophomore Emily Arbuthnott was downed by freshman Amanda Meyer in a three set 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. This time Stanford did not know whether it could make it.
On court 2, though, one game was left to be played. Lord was preparing to take on junior Fernanda Contreras in possibly the most important clincher of any athlete’s career. Lord, an All-American, had missed the beginning of the season due to a shoulder injury, and the team had felt her absence. Now, back on the court and ready, she had a national championship riding on her shoulders. The first set was fought tooth-and-nail, with Lord emerging with a 6-4 win after a tough break point. Her momentum died down a bit in the second set, allowing Contreras to breeze by with a 2-6 win.
But, Lord, who held a 14-0 NCAA match record, was determined to keep a clean sheet and deliver to her teammates the much-deserved NCAA banner. A tough set ensued. Lord lost the first of her two match points, up 6-5 in the third. Set to return, holding a 40-30 lead, with the crowd holding its breath and an entire team that had picked itself up after a rough beginning on their toes, Lord delivered the clincher, winning the match in a 7-5 set.
In yet another upset, the Cardinal had claimed the National Championships. A tweet video posted by the team’s official Twitter account shows Head Coach Lele Forood turning away with the caption “When that cooler of ice is coming but you know all the tricks after winning nine of these…”
Contact Laura Sussman at laura111 ‘at’ stanford.edu