“I think maybe the hardest thing in sports sometimes to do is win when you’re expected to win,” ASU women’s tennis coach Sheila McInerney said following the Washington State victory March 22.
“This will help us a little bit going into Cal-Stanford, where we’re clearly the underdog,” she said. “Maybe we’ll play a little bit freer and play to win rather than maybe a little bit of not-to-lose.”
California and Stanford, ranked No. 16 and No. 4 respectively from the March 18 ITA rankings update, have histories of competing at high levels. Stanford, which is undefeated this season, has won 18 national titles. ASU has beaten the Cardinal once in McInerney’s 30-year coaching career at the school.
“Stanford is certainly the iconic program in women’s tennis,” McInernery said.
McInerney said Cal has been to the Final Four a few times and won the national championship once.
Additionally, freshman No. 26 Denise Starr won the Thunderbird Invitational in the fall after knocking ASU sophomore No. 50 Stephanie Vlad out of competition in the semifinals.
Junior No. 13 Zsofi Susanyi is on Cal as well, so Vlad may not get the opportunity to redeem herself against Starr. McInerney said she would leave Vlad on the first court.
California, which ASU will play on March 28, has five total ranked individuals. In addition to Susanyi and Starr, the Bears have senior No. 30 Anett Schutting, sophomore No. 43 Lynn Chi and freshman No. 108 Maegan Manasse.
Additionally, they have three ranked doubles teams: No. 50 Schutting and Manasse, No. 63 Starr and senior Kelly Chui, and No. 80 Chi and Schutting.
One of those doubles teams will be broken up, as Schutting cannot play two, but Sun Devils’ doubles will have to fight to keep their win streak alive, especially after barely getting the victory over WSU on Saturday.
On March 29, ASU will play the Cardinal, whose lineup may be more formidable than that of Cal. They have six ranked individual players, all who are ranked above Vlad. The highest is senior Kristie Ahn, who currently holds the No. 2 rank in the nation. The lowest is junior No. 40 Ellen Tsay.
McInerney said the athletes prepare to play against these high level opponents from experience.
“When they were juniors they played these kids,” McInerney said.
Sophomore Desirae Krawczyk has a chance to play a couple opponent of number one court caliber after coasting through her individual undefeated season in the number two court.
McInerney said Starr and Susanyi often switch one and two courts on Cal. Krawczyk is likely to play freshman No. 27 Taylor Davidson on Stanford.
“It’ll be good for her,” McInerney said. “It gives her opportunities to play against highly ranked players and if she can come away with a win or two, that’s going to just help her individual singles ranking and a possible chance for her to get into the NCAA individual tournament.”
Stanford boasts a pair of ranked doubles duos in No. 17 Ahn and freshman Carol Zhao and No. 27 Tsay and Davidson.
“We’re going to need to play well,” McInerney said. “These teams are a couple levels up from what we’ve been playing.
She said the key was to take care of individual matches, whether they be singles or doubles, and work to get smaller-scale victories.
“You just take it from almost an individual standpoint rather than a team standpoint and hope that in the end you come out with four points,” McInerney said.
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