No. 21 Irish drop match 4-0 to No. 16 Vanderbilt
BY JOE LINDSLEY
A successful season came to a tough end for the No. 21 Irish as they fell 4-0 to No. 15 Vanderbilt in the second round of the NCAA Tournament May 10 in Nashville, Tenn.
Notre Dame, who finished the season 16-9, began the match by losing the doubles point and then the bottom three singles matches.
Playing without the services of senior captain Katie Cunha, Notre Dame enjoyed only one victory against Vanderbilt. The doubles duo of freshman Lauren Connelly and junior Alicia Salas topped their second ranked opponent in two days as they defeated Sarah Riske and Aleke Tsoubanos. For Connelly and Salas, it was their 13th win in 16 matches.
Unfortunately, the team as a whole was not able to achieve back-to-back victories in the NCAA tournament. The Irish began the route to the national championship by defeating No. 38 Missouri 4-1 in the first round May 9.
Connelly and Salas got the Irish off to a promising start with their upset of the No. 15 doubles duo of Urska Juric and Katka Sevikova. Their win at No. 1 doubles clinched the point for the Irish and it marked the 12th time in the last 15 matches the Irish have done so.
Lauren Connelly's younger sister, sophomore Sarah Jane Connelly, also had success in doubles. Paired with freshman Kristina Stastny, the Irish pair succeeded at No. 2.
Junior Caylan Leslie and freshman Jennifer Smith fell at No. 3 doubles, and the challenge continued for Leslie who fell to No. 36 Juric in singles. Leslie was ranked 39th.
The Juric singles victory was the only point Missouri would earn though, and No. 94 Salas, Stastny, Sarah Jane Connelly, and Smith all contributed to the Irish win.
Overall, the season was a good one for the young Irish team, which saw many successes including an upset of No. 20 Miami in the Big East Championships on the Hurricanes' home courts. That win was especially pleasing for the Irish who had finished their regular season down in Miami, but with a 6-1 loss to the Hurricanes.
The title match of the Big East conference tournament between the Irish and Hurricanes included a doubles match that Irish coach Jay Louderback termed an "instant classic."
The No. 2 doubles team of Sarah Jane Connelly and Stastny fought a scrappy Miami duo to triumph 8-6 in a match that had truly come down to the wire. Stastny and Connelly had reached a 7-1 lead, but Miami's Igna deVilliers and Abby Smith put up a strong rally to surge within reach of the Irish pair. In the end the Irish won, and the Notre Dame claimed the Big East title.
An important moment of the season for both the team and especially for Cunha was the Ace for the Cure event, during which the then-19th ranked Irish defeated then-No. 13 Texas 6-1. The event was held to raise funds and awareness for colon cancer, which was the cause of the death of Cunha's mother last year.
Notre Dame's record may not entirely reflect the team's successful season given that the Irish faced much of the nation's most powerful teams. Though they will be losing the leadership and services of Cunha, the team returns all the rest of the key players, many of whom will still only be sophomores next year.
Fortunately for the Irish, those sophomores will already have NCAA tournament experience after the belt, and the prospects of continuing this season's success should remain high.
All Sports Stories for Friday, July 11, 2003