Widgets Magazine

Ahn, Zhao knocked out of NCAA Tournament

The season came to a disappointing end for the No. 11 Stanford women’s tennis team (20-3, 8-2 Pac-12) on Friday as senior Kristie Ahn and freshman Carol Zhao ended their runs in the NCAA Division I Women’s Tennis Tournament.

The losses came for Ahn and Zhao in the both the doubles and singles rounds of 16, a surprisingly early finish for two of the Cardinal’s strongest players.

(SHIRLEY PEFLEY/stanfordphoto.com)

Senior Kristie Ahn (above) saw her decorated Stanford career come to an untimely end when she was forced to withdraw from her singles match at the NCAA Tournament due to injury. (SHIRLEY PEFLEY/stanfordphoto.com)

After Stanford cruised through the opening round of the individual tournament, sending all of their lineup but junior Ellen Tsay onto the second round, the outlook looked good for the squad. All five players had momentum from the Card’s semifinal finish in the team tournament, and each had a dominant opening individual performance. When the round of 32 concluded in Athens, Georgia on Thursday, however, only Ahn and Zhao remained standing.

The No. 10 doubles duo of Ahn and Zhao was also a force to be reckoned with all season, and was consistently among the top 10 pairs in the country — finishing second in the Pac-12 doubles tournament in April.

Coming into Friday’s match against No. 8 Monique Albuquerque and Clementina Riobueno of Miami, Stanford’s lone doubles pair had an impressive 29-5 record. Ahn and Zhao started off strong in the first set, but quickly let the lead slip away as Albuquerque and Riobueno went ahead 6-4. In typical fashion, the Cardinal’s pair fought back and rallied late in the second set, but fell short, losing 7-5 to give the Hurricane duo the win.

On the singles side, expectations were high for No. 21 Zhao, a freshman who was recently named the ITA Northwest Region Player to Watch. She spent the year at number three for the Cardinal, consistently exceeding expectations and taking 27 of her 30 matches in straight sets.

On Thursday, she pulled off a huge upset victory over host Georgia’s No. 6 Lauren Herring, continuing her pattern of steady performances in high-pressure situations. The 7-6 (4), 7-5 win should have been a nice boost going into the round of 16, but failed to provide the necessary momentum to push Zhao to the quarterfinals.

Zhao hit a roadblock against UCLA’s No. 13 Chanelle Van Nguyen, a familiar Pac-12 opponent. The Bruins junior took Zhao down 7-5, 6-2 in an extremely rare straight-set loss for the freshman. After UCLA’s powerhouse players Jennifer Brady and Robin Anderson also fell in the round of 16, Van Nguyen’s victory became doubly important for the national team champion Bruins.

However, the story of the day was No. 3 senior Kristie Ahn, who faced Georgia State’s No. 22 Abigail Tere-Apisah. Ahn, too, had a good round of 32 showing against UCLA’s No. 38 Kyle McPhillips, but could not repeat her success on Friday.

Ahn, whose Stanford career before this year was riddled with injuries, fell victim once again during the second set of the match. Tere-Apisah took the first set 6-3, and after falling behind 1-0 in the second set, Ahn was forced to stop the match early due to injury.

It was a perhaps unfair end to a career that saw Ahn post a 97-17 overall record and clinch the national championship match against Texas A&M during last year’s NCAA Tournament. She was named the ITA National Senior Player of the Year after finishing 29-5. Incredibly, the senior never dropped consecutive matches during her time on the Farm.

Ultimately, neither Tere-Apisah nor Van Nguyen made it to the championship match, which took place Monday between Cal’s No. 24 Lynn Chi and UVA’s No. 38 Danielle Collins.

For the Cardinal, despite a premature end to the individual tournament run, the team’s success in Athens remains significant. The round of 16 finishes by Ahn and Zhao automatically earned them All-American status, and the pair will earn the same honor for doubles if they finish ranked in the ITA’s top 10.

As for the rest of this young Stanford squad, there is nowhere to go but up. The roster will look almost identical next season, and the country’s most decorated program will continue to build under head coach Lele Forood.

Especially after not winning any championship titles this season, the hunger will be even greater come 2015.

Contact Fiona Noonan at fnoonan@stanford.edu.