Is it any surprise? After mowing down their competition all year, Stanford Women's Tennis is set to play in today's NCAA championship. The undefeated, #1-ranked and #1-seeded Cardinal have not dropped a point yet through the five rounds of this year's NCAAs.
Stanford is an unblemished 29-0 on the season, and they have a chance today to elevate their standing as one of the few true dynasties in modern college athletics. The Cardinal have won 85 straight matches, and a victory today over #7 Miami (24-6) would mark the third straight year not only for a Stanford National Championship, but also the third straight undefeated championship season. Stanford last lost a match in the 2003 NCAA finals in a controversial match against Florida, when the Gators gamed matchups on the singles courts.
The Cardinal this year are simply too deep and too dominant for any opponent to game their way to a victory. Stanford is so deep and talented right now that nationally ranked Jessica Nguyen sits on the bench during singles as a reserve. She is the seventh best singles player for Stanford this year, as measured by the rankings, and there are just six singles courts that compete in a match. The fabulous freshman is ranked #73 in the latest computer rankings. By comparison, the second highest ranked singles player for Miami is senior Melissa Applebaum at #76.
Stanford's 2005-06 roster is akin to an All-American roster. Consider the Cardinal's current rankings:
#5 - Alice Barnes (senior)
#8 - Amber Liu (senior)
#10 - Theresa Logar (junior)
#11 - Anne Yelsey (junior)
#34 - Celia Durkin (sophomore)
#52 - Whitney Deason (sophomore)
#1 - Alice Barnes/Anne Yelsey
#22 - Amber Liu/Celia Durkin
Miami's talent at the top is formidable, which could make for interesting competition on the #1 court today in both doubles and singles. While the Hurricanes may not have a good chance at taking home the title, they could score a minor victory by being the first and only opponent to take a point off the juggernaut Cardinal.
Miami sophomore Audra Cohen is ranked #2 in the nation in singles, and she teams with Applebaum for the #2 doubles tandem in the country. Cohen is a local girl for the 'Canes, hailing from nearby Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas. She won the state championship both her junior and senior years of high school in both singles and doubles. Last year, Cohen competed as a freshman in college at Northwestern, where she notched 51 wins - the third best all-time total in the modern era of Division I women's competition. She played in the finals on the NCAA singles competition, where she lost. More incredible is the fact that the frosh phenom did all of this despite a handful of significant injuries.
Her transfer release from the Big Ten school last June came as a shock to the tennis world, and NCAA rules do not require athletes in tennis to sit out a year like they do in football or basketball. Miami happened to have one scholarship open, and they quickly became a national player for the 2005-06 season when Cohen came home. She is an awesome 31-1 this year, with her only loss coming last month to #1-ranked Kristi Miller of Georgia Tech. Cohen has played at #1 singles for Miami in every dual match this season.
Amber Liu will have her hands full on court #1 (as will Barnes/Yelsey on that same court in doubles), though her 18-3 record this year is nothing to be ignored. The Stanford senior last lost back in March.
In the 25-year history of the Women's NCAA Tennis Championship, this is the 20th appearance by Stanford in the finals. The last time the Cardinal did not play in the NCAA team title tilt was 1998, after a razor-tight defeat to #3 Duke in the semifinals, 5-4. Stanford has won 14 championships in their previous 19 finals appearances. A victory today would give Stanford not only their 15th overall National Championship, but also three straight and five in the last six years.
Stanford's Taube Tennis Center is the host this year of the NCAAs in both the men and women, the first time ever for a single host of a dual NCAA Tennis Championship. The Cardinal women have not lost at home since February 1999.
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