Upon hearing that her women’s tennis team would have to face Stanford, Wisconsin women’s tennis head coach Patti Henderson just smiled. What else can you do when your team is facing the top-ranked team in the country?
“Stanford is the premiere tennis school in the country,” Henderson said. ” To be able to play them at our place with our crowd is a great opportunity.”
The match between Wisconsin and Stanford is one of eight being played today in the opening round of the 15th-annual USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships at Nielson Tennis Stadium.
The Cardinal team has won this event the past two years and is also the defending national champion.
With all the talent in this weekend’s prestigious tournament, a different draw wouldn’t have meant much relief for Wisconsin.
Fourteen of the 16 teams are ranked in the top 20 in the nation. Three-fourths of the NCAA Final Four from a year ago are in town this weekend, with only Florida absent from the group that includes Vanderbilt, Georgia and Stanford.
“Next to the NCAAs, I would say that it is the premiere event,” Henderson said.
The Badgers, ranked 73rd, bring a 3-0 record into today’s match-up. However, those previous contests weren’t much of a challenge in comparison to the competition awaiting UW this weekend.
The biggest test for Wisconsin so far this season came from No. 32 BYU last Friday. Wisconsin dropped all three doubles matches before rebounding to win five of the six singles matches for the 5-2 win.
The Badgers were victorious again last Sunday in their Big Ten opener at No. 75 Minnesota. The only player to lose a single set was the No.1 singles player, senior Vanessa Rauh.
“We’ve played three matches so far and there have been people who haven’t even lost a set,” Henderson said. “It’s unrealistic to expect that we’re going to win matches 7-0. How we handle those situations this weekend will be a test of character. I think we’ll be fine in that situation.”
To aid Henderson’s claim is the diverse mix of experience and youth on her squad. While the young players are coming into the season with a clean slate, the five upperclassmen haven’t had great success at UW.
“For a couple of years they’ve gone through some disappointing seasons, had a lot of growing pains but continued to fight,” Henderson said.
But this is a new year. And the team has a chance to improve upon the past.
“I felt in the fall that the depth we have is amazing,” junior Linde Mues said. “The work has paid off.”
Rauh and fellow senior Katie Doughterty, along with juniors Lara Vojnov, Shana McElroy and Mues are the upperclassmen that will lead the team against the toughest competition in the nation. This weekend will be a good indication of how far the Badgers have come from last year’s 9-16 record.
“We’d like to establish ourselves as back, being one of those top 20 teams in the country,” Henderson said.
There is no better way to do that than to beat a Stanford team that has only lost one match in its last 64 outings.
“We have nothing to lose,” Henderson said. “The pressure is on Stanford.”