The Stanford women’s tennis team makes its first trek this weekend to southern California to compete in a double-header against No. 49 University of San Diego (1-1) and No. 33 Pepperdine (0-2). The No. 5 Cardinal (1-0) is fresh off its season opener victory over UC-Davis last Thursday.
It was an easy win for Stanford, who dropped just one singles match on court six. Senior captain Natalie Dillon lost a hard-fought battle to UC-Davis’ Melissa Kobayakawa in a tiebreaker 10-8—she led the tiebreak 8-3 before Kobayakawa rallied.
“I had a lot of great moments,” she said, “but I need to focus on finishing the match out and converting break points.”
Though a clear leader on the roster, Dillon has experienced only one full year of competition in the main singles lineup.
“I’m working on improving my mental game and competing consistently,” said Dillon. “It’ll be an emphasis of mine this weekend as well as this season more generally.”
Along with Stacey Tan, Dillon is one of the only two seniors on the squad. The pair are the only players who were a part of the 2010 NCAA championship team. As a captain and a walk-on, Dillon’s experience can help guide Stanford towards another title.
“I can serve as an example of what needs to be done in order to win that title at the end of the year,” Dillon said. “Coming as a walk-on, my leadership is more marked by hard work and effort than anything else.”
The Cardinal will continue to work towards that goal and Dillon will continue to demonstrate that work ethic this weekend when they face USD and Pepperdine. Stanford did not compete against USD last year, but easily topped Pepperdine with a 5-2 victory last February.
The top of the lineup should consist of junior Nicole Gibbs on court one, followed by freshman and No. 2 Krista Hardebeck on court two, and junior Kristie Ahn on court three. Sophomore and No. 55 Ellen Tsay, Tan and Dillon will represent the Cardinal on courts four, five, and six.
Doubles will be played with Gibbs and Ahn competing on court one, followed by Tan and Tsay on court two and Dillon and Hardebeck on court three.
“Krista is a fantastic baseline player with powerful shots,” Dillon explained. “This gives me the opportunity to close in at the net, so together we make a pretty explosive team.”
Practice this week has especially concentrated on doubles play. Dillon explained that, unlike the fall where the focus was to fine-tune, the spring emphasis is match play.
“So far practice has been characterized by a lot of drills that simulate competition,” she said. “It’s more tailored and focused to our individual needs as well.”
The Dillon/Hardebeck duo is the only senior/freshman pairing. When asked what advice Dillon would give to Hardebeck and freshman Lindsey Kostas, Dillon instead praised the storied Stanford program.
“Playing on the Stanford tennis team is a real honor and there is a lot of history and legacy that comes with it,” she said. “One component is enjoying the experience but another is putting everything you have into it because that’s when you get the biggest returns.”
This weekend will mark Stanford’s second opportunity playing together as a team. Dillon described how creating an identity is something the group has been discussing recently.
“We are known to be really big hitters,” said Dilllon “but we also want to be known as players that grind on the court, all day and all night. We are taking that step in terms of fitness and practice.”
The Cardinal will first take on USD in San Diego 12 p.m. Friday at the Hogan Tennis Center. The team will then travel up to Malibu on Saturday to face Pepperdine at Ralphs-Straus Tennis Center at 1 p.m.