Somebody new today will hoist the hardware of the Women's Tennis NCAA Championship in Athens (Ga.). Three-time defending Stanford lost their chance to play for a fabled four-peat Monday when they lost in the semifinals, 4-2, to #12-ranked UCLA. The Cardinal were the #1-ranked team in the nation and the favorite to win again this week.
The semifinal loss also ends a streak dating back to 1999 where Stanford played eight straight seasons in the NCAA finals.
"I don't know if I consider it a run because this is a different team, and they had a different season," says head coach Lele Forood. "To me, every year is different. I know that we had three straight championships, but that wasn't with this team entirely. This team had a very successful season, and that resulted in a semifinal finish at the NCAAs. Next year's team will be different, and we will try to get right back on top."
Stanford finishes the 2007 season with a 24-2 record that would be the envy of any team in the country. They had already beaten the Bruins both previous times the teams faced off, but the ball bounced a different direction in this third meeting. The cliché says that it is so difficult to beat a team three times in a season, but that rings hollow for Forood, whose teams have handed conference foes scads of losses in a given season.
"I suppose it is, but we're used to it in our conference because we have the double round robin," the coach comments. "We wind up playing at least here, and sometimes we play teams at the Indoors - we end up playing four times in a year. To me, that doesn't mean anything."
The Cardinal owned the Bruins coming into Monday's semifinal, with 20 straight match victories that spanned nearly a decade. This year was clearly more competitive, with Stanford winning February 17 and and April 13 by narrow 4-3 margins. In each of those dual matches, the Cardinal and Bruins split the singles courts at three wins apiece. In the first meeting on The Farm, Stanford won courts #2, #4 and #6. In the Los Angeles rematch, Stanford took points on courts #1, #2 and #5.
Most important, however, was the doubles point Stanford claimed in both dual matches. That is where the Cardinal failed on Monday, losing the doubles point for the first time against UCLA this year. It proved to be the difference, as the conference foes split the singles courts once again. Stanford officially won two singles points, but only a few seconds separated a third from finishing. Freshman Lindsay Burdette was serving for match point on court #6, up 5-2 in the third set, when junior Whitney Deason lost the clinching point on court #4 to Ashley Joelson.
"We had really tight matches with them this year, and they were the better team today," Forood offers. "They deserved it. They fought really hard. They won that doubles point - played really well in the doubles. It came down, of course, to the two matches left on. They prevailed and got the wins they needed. They played very, very well today."
Doubles has been an historical strength for Stanford, but the Cardinal faced unusual challenges this year with a short-handed lineup. The decision for prep phenom Vania King to turn pro in the summer rather than matriculate on The Farm meant Stanford would play one under the scholarship limit in 2006-07. More disabling was an array of injuries which attacked the Cardinal, up and down the lineup. The team continually shuffled doubles partners and never put together the chemistry and consistency needed for championship run.
Also disappointing in this third meeting against UCLA was the loss at #2 singles by senior Anne Yelsey. She had twice earlier in the season beaten the Bruin's #2, Tracy Lin, both times in straight sets. Yelsey is ranked the #17 singles player in collegiate women's tennis, while Lin stands at #40. The Stanford senior was 16-5 in dual matches this season and had won 13 of her last 14.
Yelsey lost to Lin on Monday in straight sets 6-4, 6-4. The two dueled on serve, however, in the critical second set at 3-3. It looked like Yelsey would turn the match in the seventh game up 40-15 on Lin's serve, with two break points. She wasted both and lost the game in a deuce. She never broke Lin in the second set and was instead broken at 30 in the 10th and deciding game.
Deason had lost opportunities as well on court #4. She seized a great momentum advantage when she took a long and grueling first set that contained lengthy deuces and extended baseline battles. After splitting the first 12 games, Deason jumped to a 3-0 lead in the tiebreaker and held on for a 7-3 win. The junior faded fast in the second set and gave the momentum (and more) back to her Bruin foe. Deason had her serve broken twice to start the second set and dropped to an 0-5 deficit before falling 1-6. She was broken again in the first game of the third set, unable to again break back. Though Burdette was in control of the third set two courts over, Deason was sliding toward certain defeat. Deason's one chance to save the match and season came in the fourth game with a break point against Lin, but she could not convert.
Stanford's depth is its greatest weapon, which is why the Cardinal are so hard to beat on the lower courts. Indeed, the defending champs controlled courts #5 and #6 on Monday. The best chance to upset Stanford starts at the top, where lower-ranked teams often one or two headliner talents. For UCLA, that was #15-ranked Riza Zalameda. (You may remember her from the upset victory in 2006 in the singles championships of the NCAAs over Stanford's ace Amber Liu.)
Logar and Zalameda split their previous meetings in 2007, with Logar winning 6-4, 6-4 in April and Zalameda winning 1-6, 6-1, 6-0 in February. On Monday, however, Stanford's #1 player blew her Bruin counterpart off the court with a 6-2, 6-2 win. It was all the more impressive considering the clobbering Logar suffered 24 hours earlier in the NCAA quarterfinal against #1-ranked Audra Cohen of Miami - 0-6, 3-6.
The singles victory in the semifinals provided scant consolation for the emotional Stanford senior afterward. It was the first time in Logar's college career that she tasted a team loss in the NCAAs, and just the second time in 112 total dual matches spanning her incomparable four years.
"It's not an ideal situation, but that's why you go to college for four years - you can have those other wins to lessen the blow," Logar allows. "I'm not happy to have lost, but I know that we have won quite a few years. Our team has gone through a lot this year, and to go this far is really an accomplishment. In that way, I feel that we didn't really lose."
"Although we aren't going to walk home with a championship, we are taking a lot of other things away from it," she continues. "We understand that at any position we believe in each other. We know that when the deck is stacked against us, like it has been in a lot of matches, we can pull out 4-3 matches. I never really experienced that in my other three years of college because we had teammates who were really good. We had a very, very good team and had a lot of 7-0's. Through this year, I think our team has gained a lot of confidence in each other and a lot of confidence in themselves. Although it didn't go our way tonight, I think next year they're going to come back with a lot of confidence. I'll be there cheering them on like the [graduated] seniors were this year. We'll go to Tulsa."
Before she reunites as a rooter for her former teammates at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center next May, Logar has the NCAA singles bracket and an individual championship to chase starting Wednesday. Last year she made a run to the semifinals, and she is a mentally tougher competitor today.
Logar will walk with the senior class at graduation back on The Farm next month, though she has one quarter remaining to complete her degree. As a requirement of her International Relations program, she must study abroad one quarter. With her collegiate tennis career finally over, Logar will travel for a summer quarter of study in Barcelona, Spain.
"That's going to be fun," she says, half-smiling for the first time after Monday's match. "I'll try to train while I'm in Barcelona, and then I'll play tournaments when I get back. I'll probably play for a year to see how it goes."
Stanford 2, UCLA 4
1. Zalameda/Schnack (UCLA) d. Burdette/Yelsey (UCLA) 8-4
2. Joelson/McGoodwin (UCLA) d. Durkin/Nguyen (STAN) 8-5
3. Deason/Logar (STAN) vs. No. 41 Lumpkin/Wetmore (UCLA) 6-6, susp.
1. Theresa Logar (STAN) d. Riza Zalameda (UCLA) 6-2, 6-2
2. Tracy Lin (UCLA) d. Anne Yelsey (STAN) 6-4, 6-4
3. Yasmin Schnack (UCLA) d. Celia Durkin (STAN) 6-2, 6-4
4. Ashley Joelson (UCLA) d. Whitney Deason (STAN) 6-7 (4-7), 6-1, 6-3
5. Jessica Nguyen (STAN) d. Alex McGoodwin (UCLA) 6-1, 4-6, 6-3
6. Lindsay Burdette (STAN) led Elizabeth Lumpkin (UCLA) 6-4, 5-7, 5-2, susp.
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