Well, it’s that time of year again … when spring sports start dreaming of a NCAA Championship.
The Stanford Men’s tennis team (14-10) heads off to Evanston, IL, where they will encounter the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (15-13) in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Coach Goldstein and his crew caught a small break with their assignment to the Regional with #14 Northwestern and not a team in the top five or top ten. The men deserve a break after a tough season with several close losses and are my pick to advance out of the Regional and onto the final site in Tulsa, OK. Unfortunately, there they would encounter the #2 seeded Bruins from UCLA, who have manhandled the Card so far this season (why the NCAA would potentially pair Stanford against UCLA for the 4th time this season is a very good and unanswered question). However, this team has taken on the personality of their coach, competing hard every match. As the old saying goes “winners never quit and quitters never win” and that’s why they play the matches out and not just award the trophy to the top seed.
The Stanford Women’s team are seeded #15 and are again hosting the first and second rounds of competition at Taube Family Tennis Stadium. The NCAA, in all their infinite wisdom, has moved the Cardinal’s ranking from #12 to #15 in the last week of the season. This, after upsetting #1 Cal and clinching the Pac-12 crown with a win over USC in their final two matches of the season.
Here’s the dirty little secret: The Intercollegiate Tennis Association is the only organization that determines collegiate tennis rankings. Their ranking system has many obvious faults, not the least of which is an oppressive penalty for skipping the ITA sponsored Indoor Team Championships. Then, at the end of the season when other NCAA sports committees are hard at work trying to figure out final rankings, seeds and the Championship draw, the NCAA tennis committee simply “rubber stamps” the ITA rankings and makes the draw accordingly. (I was actually told by a committee member a few years back they needed to do it this way otherwise it would take “all day” to figure it out. Holy shmoly! Did he really just say that?)
The NCAA Committee did make one change this year. They moved five-time NCAA Champions Florida from #1 to #2 seed, which put the Gators in the same 16th of the draw as 18-time National Champion Stanford. Guess which two teams skipped the ITA Indoor Tournament this year? Bingo, go pick up your free t-shirt from Dick Gould!
These tainted rankings go a long way in explaining the poor correlation between the top seeds and actual NCAA Champions and not having a #1 seed win since 2011 (and the Cardinal having won 10 of its last 12 NCAA Tournament matches when seeded lower than it’s opponent). In fact, Stanford won the NCAA’s from the #8 slot in 2010 and incredibly, won again in 2013 from the #12 slot! And you wonder why a couple years back Coach Forood had t-shirts printed that stated “NO RESPECT”!
The Cardinal netters drew Texas A&M and although they are undefeated we should “kill” them. If victorious, then we play … Texas A&M!?! Explanation: We play Texas A&M, Corpus Christi on Friday (at 2pm at Taube – be there!) and Texas A&M College Station on Saturday. I call it “The Zombie Regional”! If we are fortunate enough to survive “the undead”, we move onto tornado-prone Tulsa, OK location for 12 days, which might be even more scary than “The Night of the Living Dead”!
As mentioned, in Tulsa, #2 seed Florida is expected to be awaiting us in the round of 16. Two programs with 23 National titles between them yet seemingly punished for skipping the ITA Indoors back in February.
Cross bay rival Cal was moved up at the last minute to the #1 seed (oh yes, they played and won the ITA Indoor tournament) and are in the other half of the draw from Stanford and Florida. If the seeding works out as planned, the Bears would meet the University of North Carolina in the semis, in a replay of the Indoor team final.
The Cardinal Women are healthy, have their line-up intact (Carol Zhao back at #1) and are fresh from whipping #1 ranked Cal and USC for their 25th Pac-12 Conference Crown. So, if we can survive the “Zombie Regionals” and get to Tulsa, we will be a formidable foe for any opponent. Back when the NCAA Tournament consisted of only the top 16 teams, the coaches were presented with the line-ups of the other 15 teams. I would open to our opponent’s lineup the day before to study and focus our team and staff. Then, each night I would dismissively tear off “the losers”, toss them away and open to the next opponent. (Remember, you don’t need to beat every team in the tournament, merely your next opponent.) This ritual would continue until I had only one line-up remaining and then we would start planning our celebratory dinner. You can’t even imagine how hard it is to find 50 red and white balloons in Athens, GA!
NCAA First round match vs. Texas A&M, Corpus Christi
Friday, May 13, 2pm, Taube Family Tennis Stadium
Tentative Stanford line-up:
#1 - Carol Zhao
#2 – Taylor Davidson
#3 – Caroline Doyle
#4 – Krista Hardebeck
#5 – Caroline Lampl
#6 – Melissa Lord
#1 – Davidson/Doyle
#2 – Zhao/Lord
#3 – Hardebeck/Lampl
In 21 seasons coaching the Stanford women’s tennis team, Frank Brennan compiled an eye-popping 510-50 overall record (.911) - most wins of any coach in program history. He is a four-time ITA/Wilson Intercollegiate Coach of the Year and led the Cardinal to 10 NCAA championships, including six in a row from 1986-91 and four perfect seasons (1982, 1984, 1989 and 1990). He was also named the NCAA and ITA Coach of the Decade (for the 1980’s) and and earlier this month was named the Pac-12 Women's Tennis Coach of the Century. Frank is a member of both the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame and the USTA/International Tennis Hall of Fame. His son, Frankie is currently the Associate Head Coach of the Stanford women’s team.