You might be excused if you overlooked #1-ranked Stanford Women's Tennis playing this weekend against #41 Washington State and unranked Washington at the Taube Tennis Center. After all, the three-time defending National Champions have bigger fish to fry the following two weeks when they wrap the regular season on the road at #10 UCLA, at #7 USC and finally across the Bay at #5 Cal.
But there is something significant, if not magnificent, to be celebrated on Saturday when the Cardinal play their final home regular season dual match at noon against the Huskies. It will be a tearful farewell for Stanford seniors Theresa Logar and Anne Yelsey, who have been integral parts of the winningest program not only on campus but arguably in all of college athletics the past four years.
"It's really sad, to be perfectly honest, because it doesn't seem like it's been four years. I wish I could play for another two years here," says Yelsey. "It comes at a weird time because we still have a lot of matches on the road. We're still right in the middle of our season, but I'll be sad to not be playing in front of our home crowd and all of the people who come out to our matches every single week. I'll miss that."
"I think that it's going to be a really difficult weekend," Logar admits. "You're going to try to not think about it, but it's in back of your mind. Then the minute you shake hands on Saturday, wow, you're done... I guess all good things have to come to an end at some point, so I'm looking at it with a bittersweet mindset."
Prior to this weekend's matches, Logar and Yelsey have racked up an obscene record in Stanford dual matches the past four years: 101-1. Only a 4-3 loss to #6 Georgia Tech on February 3 at the National Indoor Team Championships interrupted a heady run of perfection. The Cardinal ripped off 89 straight dual match wins previously, which included 47 against Top 25 teams. Logar and Yelsey have been part of three undefeated National Championship teams, and with the current #1 ranking in the latest ITA computer poll, they are favored to cap their careers with a fourth.
But the simple statistic of 101-1 is stunning. These two Stanford seniors are part of a rare century club - having won 100 times more than they lost in college.
"That's actually a pretty unreal number to me," Logar says upon hearing the statistic for the first time. "I think that we just got lucky, as far as when we came in and the teams we were on. I think that we had a part to do with it, but there were a lot of other people who contributed to each of those other wins. Me and Anne are just two or three points in seven on any given day. That's awesome that we get to be a part of that, but that just reflects on what great players we have at Stanford."
"Theresa and I had a small part in that, but there are so many people who have graduated already and who are still on the team who have a roll in that statistic," Yelsey concurs. "I'm happy, and I'm sure she feels the same way, to be a part of this whole period of four years and all of the records we have set. It's really cool to look at that statistic and all of the other ones and say, 'Gosh, I'm glad I was part of this team.'"
It is true that other players were centerpieces of many of the wins in the first three years, with Amber Liu and Alice Barnes playing the top singles positions and key in doubles play throughout. But the "Alice & Amber Show" graduated in June.
As juniors, Logar and Yelsey played last season at #3 and #4 singles, respectively, cruising to a combined 43-0 record in dual match play. Now the duo are seniors, playing #1 and #2 for the top team in the nation.
Stanford as a team owns a 15-1 record in dual matches this season, with a 12-match winning streak. That has everything to do with Yelsey and Logar, who are now the top players and leaders for the Cardinal.
Logar made the leap from playing on the #3 singles court for the Cardinal last season to her spot on the #1 court in all 16 dual matches this year. The overall quality of teams Stanford faces will waver, but playing #1 singles means facing a superstar talent every time you take the court. Logar has amassed an outstanding 13-3 record in dual matches at #1 singles, and her 16-7 overall record this year has her ranked 16th in the nation.
"I think she's done an amazing job," praises Yelsey. "She has an incredible record and has everybody pumped up before the matches. She has this energy about her that nobody else on the team can really replace."
"I know that it's been stressful for her, but she's been incredible," her teammate continues. "You know that playing higher, you have to step up your game. But as an older member of the team, you also have people looking to you for advice. That's the most valuable aspect I think of the team."
Logar's talent is immense, and it seems only fitting for her to play on the top singles court. She finished her junior season ranked #4 in the nation, with a team-best 39-6 overall record. Logar downed the country's #1 and #7 players in the NCAA Singles Championship. But the Stanford senior is also a decidedly emotional creature. Logar typifies the inner mental game that faces a tennis athlete, fighting to channel one's emotions positively and against implosion. For her first three years, the 5'9" fireball from Rochester Hills (Mich.) was almost impossible to beat in a dual match, except when she beat herself. Her demonstrative displays of emotion toward her opponent, the chair umpire and herself were infamous.
It was one of the great questions for Stanford this year, to see if Logar could focus and control her emotions when playing #1 singles - the beacon to which all teammates look. Would the pressure and challenges ignite the Cardinal powder keg, known to teammates as the "Beastwoman"? The answer has been somewhat surprising. Logar has instead found greater calm and control playing in the top singles slot. She has risen to the challenge and become better precisely because of it.
"I think that it's actually helped me out a lot because in practice it's helped me to be more focused on the task at hand," Logar explains. "In past years, I would be playing 'five' and think, 'Oh, whatever. I'm going to win my match no matter what.' You forget a little bit what you're out there at practice to do."
"I think this year I have been more focused on the matches because when you're playing 'one,' you're always going to have a good match," she continues. "I think I have become more and more aware of myself on the court as opposed to what my teammates are doing, which is helpful because if you're looking at other people's scores a lot, you can get up and down and get nervous. I think it's helped me a lot to get myself more focused on my game, as well as within my match."
Her role at #1 singles stretches beyond playing on the focal court in the stadium against the top competition. Logar has also carried the heaviest leadership mantle of her college career this season. After being part of three straight National Championship seasons, with so much of the program's winning ways so deeply ingrained, it may not seem a formidable challenge to take the reins. But for a player who has routinely ridden emotional rollercoasters, becoming the rudder of a championship program is no small trial.
"Sometimes, it's hard because there are days you come out here at practice and think, 'I don't want to deal with this right now,'" Logar admits. "Then you realize, 'I have to go out there. I have to give a good practice. I have to set a good example for the team and show them that even when people have rough days, you have to get through it.' In that sense, it has been hard because you are in the spotlight and you can't have a bad day on the court or off the court. You have to be very in control of your emotions and put your best foot forward. That's been challenging, but it's also been a fun experience to have that kind of pivotal role, to be in the spotlight and to have the team looking up to you. I have really enjoyed that. It pushes you and makes you want to be a better person and make you want to be a better player for yourself and for the team. It's good, and it's challenging at the same time."
Logar says that her Cardinal classmate has been the rock on which she has been leaning all year. Without Yelsey, she says she could have struggled.
"I think that she exudes a tremendous amount of confidence, both on the practice court and on the match court, which is really helpful for me because I kind of fluctuate. I put up a front, but I do fluctuate a lot. I think Anne has really helped me to stay confident during my matches," Logar offers. "She's really been able to attack players. I get really impressed with how she deals with pressure. I have kind of looked to her when I'm in tense moments and seen her play her points - see how calm she is and how fearless she plays. That has really helped me a lot during my matches."
"In practice, she is a very intense person, which helps keep our practices really intense and really motivated," Logar adds of the senior called "Raptor" by teammates. "I also think she does that really well within our workouts off-court. She gets really focused in the task and helps us stay focused when we're working out, which is obviously very beneficial to us."
While Logar has battled the mental and emotional game, Yelsey has wrestled with a physical set of demons. The same quadricep muscle strain that plagued her during the NCAA Tournament last May followed her into this senior year. She thought her quad strain improved over the summer, but then upon coming back, she found trouble with other parts of her leg. If it wasn't her quad, her hamstring would be too tight. One problem was replaced by another.
"Everything just kind of fell apart once the fall hit," Yelsey says.
The 5'7" Newport Beach (Calif.) product spent the entire fall focused on rehabilitation, which ran through January. Yelsey had a difficult start to the season, made all the more difficult adjusting to her everyday status on the #2 singles court. She debuted with a #67 singles ranking in February, which in the newest computer rankings out earlier this week has climbed to #21.
"It was kind of difficult at first because I was coming off an injury," Yelsey offers. "That took its toll in the fall and even a little bit in the winter quarter. I started off struggling a little. After I got my injury back together and mentally checked in, I was ready to go. I enjoy playing at 'two' - it's nice being in the stadium, and more people cheer you on in the stadium. I've liked the challenge, and I'm still trying to crank out and do what I can do at the number two position."
Yelsey now proudly proclaims that she is "110 percent" healthy, as Stanford soars into the stretch run of the season. Injuries and illness plagued Stanford mercilessly during the winter, including a foot injury to sophomore Jessica Nguyen that has kept her off the court since March 2, when she had to retire against Pepperdine and lost her undefeated season of singles in dual matches. Nguyen practiced this week and could see time this weekend against the Washington schools for the first time in more than a month.
You might not know it, with Stanford's one-loss record and #1 national ranking, but the Cardinal were tested severely during the stretch of injury and illness. In several instances, players had to take the court despite ailments. The 2006-07 roster is thinner than usual, with just eight total players on the roster and seven on scholarship (one below the NCAA limit). Stanford last year carried 11 players, eight on scholarship.
"The number one thing for us right now is that we're getting healthy, and we're going to stay healthy," Yelsey declares. "We won a bunch of close matches this year where we had two or three girls out, or somebody playing with an injury because we didn't have enough people to play. The fact that we're healthy now, and we're ready to go, is just going to just make us that much more stronger and that much more confident in ourselves and in each other."
"That has a profound effect on our morale," Logar adds. "I can't wait to see all of us out there without any stipulations."
Stanford's opponents are not of the same mind. The rest of collegiate women's tennis danced a collective jig when the Cardinal fell to Georgia Tech. The dynasty was declared over, once the NCAA-record 89-match winning streak was snapped. Another school of thought would warn against making the beast angry, and Stanford has rattled off 12 straight dual match wins since.
"We'd like to think that we could win them all, but we were bound to lose a match at some point. Or else, that would have just been outrageous," Yelsey laughs. "We knew that if we took a loss, we'd know how to handle it. It would almost be a good thing for us. We wouldn't get complacent, and we would learn from it. We definitely did. After that Georgia Tech loss, we came back and worked on all of the stuff that we needed to work on. Doubles. Singles, too, because we lost three singles matches. It's paid off because we're winning pretty handily right now, and we go out having all of the confidence that we need."
The mighty Cardinal, with all the confidence they need and two surging seniors at the helm, is a scary thing for the rest of the nation. And that's way Stanford Women's Tennis works.
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