By Will Seaton
The ever-talented Stanford women’s tennis program kicks off its 2010 program this Friday at the Freeman Invitational in Las Vegas. Led by head coach Lele Forood, the team will seek a return to the top of the national rankings and to recapture the Pacific-10 title.
Forood is heading into her 10th year coaching the Cardinal. She has had an accomplished career, including being named the 2003 National Coach of the Year and the three-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year (2004, 2005, 2007). The team’s record is an astounding 233-15 under her leadership and she was the first female head coach to win the NCAA team title when she went 30-0, 8-0 Pac-10 in 2001, her maiden season.
“We’ve set this year up schedule-wise to put our primary focus on winning the Pac-10 title again,” Forood said. “Last year was our first year in over 20 years that we didn’t win the conference title and it’s a big goal of ours again this year. When you win the conference title, it means you’re one of the top three teams in the country because our conference is so strong.”
As for the team, they’re pretty impressive in their own right. Stanford women’s tennis has a record-shattering 151 home-match winning streak, the longest active home streak of any intercollegiate sport in NCAA Division I history; the streak dates back to the 1999 season. They have fully dominated at home for the past decade. They have made 28 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and reached the round of 16 for the 24th straight season last year, finishing with a final record of 19-5.
Unfortunately for the 2010 team, it will face a little extra scrutiny this year despite its national No. 13 ranking. The Cardinal has seen a progressive slide in postseason victories since 2006, the last year they won the championship. A semifinal in 2007, a quarterfinal in 2008 and an appearance in the round of 16 last year all suggest that the program may be entering a lull. Last season’s finish of third in the Pac-10, snapping a streak of 21 consecutive Pac-10 titles, doesn’t help their defense either.
“It is definitely possible [to win the Pac-10 again], otherwise we wouldn’t put it out there as a goal. It’s not going to be easy,” Farood said. “Cal’s team got to the final, UCLA is always top 10 and Washington has two top players, so it’ll be a huge challenge for us, but even in years that we won it, they had been that good too.”
Stanford does have the players it needs to dominate nationally again though. Senior Lindsay Burdette finished the 2008-09 season with a 21-10 record, including 27-8 in doubles with her partner junior Hilary Barte. The pair reached the national championship match, but lost to California’s Mari Andersson and Jana Juricova 6-3, 6-4. The two have appeared in good form in the fall indoor season. They captured the doubles title at the ITA National Indoor Championships as the tournament’s No. 2 seed after defeating Tennessee’s Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (4).
Barte is one of the star singles players for the team as well. She was named Pac-10 Player of the Year last year, earning All-American honors in singles and doubles and finishing the year with a national singles ranking of No. 9. She led the team with a 35-6 record while playing at the No. 1 spot.
“We have a really interesting mix of players this year,” Farood said. “We have a really good blend of very experienced players and very talented freshmen and sophomores who know what it takes to win. We have a really nice balance for the team.”
Mallory Burdette, Lindsay’s sister, is just a freshman and already big things are expected. Her performance in the Saint Mary’s Invitational in October propelled her to be crowned singles champion of the Red Division, defeating the No. 2-seed, Pacific’s Jenifer Widjaja, 6-4, 6-1 in the championship while knocking off the No. 1-seed Alexandra Poorta on the way. Mallory also combined with fellow freshman Stacy Tan during the ITA Northwest Regional Championships, making a run to the semifinals before losing to Cal’s Andersson and Juricova 8-1.
When asked about Mallory, Farood responded, “I think she is already one of the top players in college tennis. Winning that tournament – that was a pretty strong tournament – and the fact that she’s ranked in the top 20 immediately are very important.”
Another rising freshman star is Stacy Tan. With a record of 5-3 for the year, Tan’s best result was a semifinal performance at the Saint Mary’s Invitational, which she followed up with a Round of 16 appearance at the ITA Northwest Regionals.
“Stacy’s results were very close to the top,” Farood said. “She had match point on the number 10 team in the region. She’s right there as well and we just have to get this team started.”
The women’s team played an exhibition against Hawai’i, prevailing 5-2 in their final fall action before spring Pac-10 play. Barte/Burdette won their No. 1 doubles action 8-4 as the Cardinal swept the doubles 3-0. In singles, the two won their respective singles matches in straight sets. Stacy Tan and Natalie Dillon were both edged in tough three-setters, but Stanford left the court with the win.
Following the Freeman Invitational, the team will travel to Indian Wells to compete in the NCTC Classic before returning to Stanford for a two-game home stand against Hawai’i (1/27) and UC Davis (2/02). Pac-10 team play starts against UCLA and USC at their courts in late February.