The Stanford women’s tennis team saw its hopes for a second national title in three years crushed in a 4-2 loss to USC on Saturday, but four Cardinal players, sophomore Nicole Gibbs, junior Mallory Burdette, junior Stacey Tan and freshman Ellen Tsay, remain in Athens, Ga., to represent Stanford in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships this week.
Despite Saturday’s abrupt ending to the team’s season, Gibbs said that it provides an opportunity for the returning group to learn and improve for next year’s dual-match season.
“Our coaches and our captain [senior Veronica Li] spoke in the locker room afterwards,” Gibbs said. “We reflected on the match, as we do after any loss or any win. This team has been through a lot of adversity, and it was a good moment to observe the year and figure out how we can grow from it.”
However, No. 3 seed Gibbs and her Cardinal teammates will have little time to reflect, as they must quickly refocus their attention from team play to the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships, which commence on Wednesday for singles and Thursday for doubles.
“There is definitely a different mental aspect when playing individually,” Gibbs said, “because if you lose, you’re done. Your teammates aren’t there to bail you out.”
Gibbs, the top-seeded Stanford player, manned court one for the Cardinal all season and put up a 31-5 overall record. She captured the ITA Northwest Regional Championship in October, the first singles title of her career, and captured her second title on April 29, winning the Pac-12 Championship. Riding an 11-match win streak, the All-American is entering the tournament with reserved confidence.
“I don’t think this tournament will define me one way or another,” she explained. “I’ve had validating performances in other individual tournaments this year, I’ve felt comfortable with my dual record and I’ve felt like I’ve played well. I’m going in with a lot of confidence, but the draw is stacked with the best players in the country so it’ll be a challenge.”
She opens play against Virginia’s Emily Fraser on Wednesday, whom she described as having “an all-court game style with a big serve.” No. 5 seed Mallory Burdette will take on South Carolina State’s Maria Craciun, and No. 25 seed Stacey Tan will face Rice’s Natalie Beazant.
Both Craciun and Beazant are unfamiliar opponents for the Cardinal, but if Stanford’s representatives can make it deeper into the tournament, they could encounter more familiar Pac-12 faces.
The doubles tournament commences on Thursday as the second-seeded pairing of Gibbs and Burdette takes on Princeton’s Hilary Bartlett and Lindsay Graff. This will be Gibbs and Burdette’s first opportunity at redemption after losing their doubles match on Saturday to USC’s Sabrina Santamaria and Kaitlyn Christian. Santamaria and Christian are not in the Stanford pair’s quarter of the draw, but Gibbs would relish a rematch on the national stage.
“I have a feeling that, if we were to meet, it would be late in the tournament,” she said. “We would love to make up for those two losses, but it would be a challenge for sure.”
But before focusing on revenge, the dominant pairing of Gibbs and Burdette will have to get past Bartlett and Graff, a first-team All-Ivy League doubles team.
“Personally, I’m focusing on getting a higher percentage of returns in the court, moving across the court to cut off ground strokes and poaching more,” she explained. “[Burdette and I] only experienced two dual-match losses all year so we aren’t making monumental changes, but we do have to bring the intensity.”
Tan and Tsay, an at-large selection to compete in the doubles draw, will seek to bring a similar intensity against their opening opponent, No. 8 seed Kristy Frilling and Shannon Mathews of Notre Dame.
Both Stanford pairs will have to adjust to altered rules in comparison to the regular season. Unlike regular season dual matches, where doubles are played as eight-game pro sets, the NCAA doubles tournament will require the best two out of three sets. This, along with singles play, naturally will place significant physical stress on the body.
“I’m definitely waiting for the storm to come,” Gibbs quipped. “But we have all the tools necessary here to deal with it, and we’re all planning on finding a way to keep our bodies running.”
Individual play begins today with Burdette’s match at 9:30 a.m. PDT, followed by Gibbs and Tan at 12:30 p.m. PDT. Doubles play opens on Thursday, May 24, with times to be announced.