Tennis ready for NCAAs

The No. 4 Stanford women aim to return to the top after exiting in the semifinals in '07, and to prove that four midseason losses were a fluke. After being left out of the Tournament last season, the No. 22 Cardinal men have something to prove in '08. Contributing writer Rebecca Harlow breaks it down.

The women:

When the NCAA Tournament kicks off on Friday, the women's tennis team will be looking to erase the memory of its first four-loss season in two decades. Seeded fourth, the Cardinal was ousted in last year's semifinals after winning the last three straight titles, and five of the last six. Stanford will start its quest for a 14th national title against Boston University at the Taube Tennis Center Friday afternoon.

The Cardinal joins No. 1 Northwestern, No. 2 Georgia and No. 3 Georgia Tech as the women's top seeds. Georgia Tech won the title last season, defeating UCLA in the championship.

After struggling in the middle of the season, with three February losses, the Cardinal women (19-4, 7-1 Pac-10) finished the regular season with seven straight victories, with their last dual-match loss at Arizona State. Over that stretch, Stanford shut out three opponents and beat three top-ten teams. The Cardinal tied with UCLA for the Pac-10 Title.

Freshman Hilary Barte is the third-ranked individual in the nation and is a perfect 17-0 at No. 1 singles on the season, with an overall record of 27-6. Though she pulled out of the Pac-10 Championships in the singles quarterfinals with an injury, she is projected to play at No. 1 singles this weekend.

Boston University (11-7, 2-0 America East) closed out its regular season with its 15th-straight America East Conference title and has won its last four dual matches. Francine Whu led the Terriers to victory and earned the Most Outstanding Performer award at the America East Tournament.

The last time Stanford hosted Boston University in the NCAA Tournament was in 2001, when the Cardinal shut out the Terriers to start a postseason run that ended with a national title.

The winner of Friday's match will advance to face either No. 31 Texas A&M or No. 38 Washington in Saturday's second round, also at Taube Tennis Center. The Cardinal swept the Huskies, 7-0, in Seattle in February. Stanford has only faced the Aggies once in program history, winning 5-1 in 1998.

The men:

On the men's side, the Cardinal will face UC-Santa Barbara in the first round, with a likely second-round matchup against No. 13 Pepperdine on the Waves' homecourt. The No. 22 Stanford men return after a year out of the Tournament.

The Stanford men (12-8, 5-2 Pac-10) have bounced back from four straight losses to open the dual-match season, and finished on a four-match winning streak. Playing at Pepperdine, the Cardinal will start things off with the No. 58 Gauchos (15-9, 4-1 Big West) on Friday. The winner will face either the host Waves or Hawaii on Saturday.

UCSB won its third straight Big West title despite dropping its last two non-conference duals of the season. It has been nearly 20 years since the Cardinal and Gauchos last played, and Stanford has won six of seven matches all-time. Stanford lost to Pepperdine by one point in their last meeting last April, but has recorded two wins over the Rainbow Warriors already in 2008.

Still to come:

After the opening weekend, the University of Tulsa will host both the men's and the women's finals, with the champions to be determined on May 20. Tulsa will also host the individual tournaments the next week.

Following the team championships, four players will represent Stanford in the singles and doubles draws. Barte, who had been undefeated for over two months before pulling her withdrawl from the Pac-10 Tournament, earned a place in the singles tournament as well as in the doubles draw, with her partner sophomore Lindsay Burdette. Together the pair is ranked ninth in the nation.

Junior Jessica Nguyen was also picked for the singles draw, while senior Celia Durkin was tabbed an alternate. Freshman Alex Clayton, ranked seventh in the nation as an individual, will play in the men's singles tournament.

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