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    Fighting Irish

    Jan. 22, 1998

    Irish Look for Fifth NCAA Trip

    Notre Dame women's tennis coach Jay Louderback points to experience and the arrival of two talented freshmen to the program as reasons for optimism as the 1997-98 season approaches.

    "Many members of this team have tasted success in NCAA play," says Louderback, whose club has advanced to the NCAA team tournament in four of the past five years, including a trip to the national quarterfinals in '95 and the regional semifinals in '97. "This is also a team that has weathered its share of injuries and adversity. We have set our eyes on returning to the NCAA national tournament this year."

    If the Irish do realize that goal, it will be a short trip as the University of Notre Dame is playing host to the NCAA Division I Championship this spring, which will run from May 23-31, 1998.

    Notre Dame's most experienced returning player is junior Jennifer Hall (Oklahoma City, Okla.), who has played in the NCAA singles tournament in each of the past two seasons and was in the doubles tournament last year with Tiffany Gates. Hall had a 27-16 record in singles last year and was 17-10 in dual match play at the No. 1 spot. She finished last season ranked No. 35 in the country by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and No. 24 in doubles with Gates.

    Hall earned All-America honors as a freshman in '96 and has played No. 1 singles for the Irish for the past two seasons.

    The No. 2 spot for the Irish is held down by one of Hall's classmates -- Marisa Velasco (Chula Vista, Calif.). Velasco struggled at the beginning of last season, but came back to win 10-straight singles matches at the end of last season to finish the year with a 17-15 record at No. 2. Velasco played No. 4 singles for the Irish as a freshman and had a 21-3 singles record in that position.

    Junior Courtney Haskell (Oneida, N.Y.) also returns this season after seeing increased playing time last year, with most of her duty coming at No. 3 doubles, where she teamed with Kelley Olson (Medford, Ore.).

    "We are expecting great things from both Jennifer and Marisa this season," says Louderback. "Along with Courtney, our junior class is extremely strong. We have players in that class that have been through a lot of ups and downs in their careers and we think that will be to our advantage this season."

    Notre Dame has three seniors on the team this year in Olson, who will serve as team captain, Tiffany Gates (Grandville, Mich.) and Darcie Sweet (Stuart, Fla.).

    Olson became a regular in the Irish singles lineup last season as she held down the No. 5 singles spot and also played at No. 3 doubles.

    Gates, who transferred to Notre Dame last year from Minnesota, had an immediate impact on the team, playing at No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles with Hall. Gates advanced to the round of 16 at the NCAA doubles tournament with Hall. She played in the NCAA singles tournament while a member of the Minnesota program.

    Sweet saw playing time in dual match action for the first time last season as she had a 10-6 mark in those events.

    "Kelley, along with Tiffany and Darcie, form a strong nucleus of leadership for our team this season," says Louderback. "Tiffany has NCAA experience in both singles and doubles which should provide big dividends for us this season. Kelley and Darcie have both played on Notre Dame teams that have advanced to the NCAA national team tournament and all three know what it will take to get the team back there this season."

    The sophomore class made an immediate impact on the Irish last season as freshmen. Kelly Zalinski (Greer, S.C.) played No. 4 singles for most of the season and was voted the team's most valuable player. Zalinski had a record of 18-8 in dual match action and an overall mark of 31-31 in singles. Zalinski was paired with Velasco in doubles at No. 2. Sarah Scaringe (Marietta, Ga.) played in 10 dual matches at the No. 6 role and gained considerable experience.

    "Kelly proved to be all she would be and more last year," says Louderback. "She stepped into her place in the singles and doubles lineup with ease and experienced great success. Sarah saw some playing time and now has a year's experience. She plans to build upon it to achieve great things this season."

    The Irish have a pair of talented freshmen entering the program in Michelle Dasso (Long Grove, Ill.) and Kim Guy (Portola Valley, Calif.).

    Dasso was ranked No. 18 in the country by the United States Tennis Association in 18s. She was also ranked No. 11 in 16s and No. 8 in 16s doubles. She was the Illinois state high school runner-up as a senior and finished third in her sophomore and junior years.

    Guy had a high school singles record of 76-9 and was 22-2 in her senior year. She was ranked No. 4 in Northern California in her senior year and was ranked in the top 10 in Northern California her entire junior year.

    "Michelle brings a strong national presence from the junior ranks," says Louderback. "In addition to winning three of the ITA summer tournaments, Kim is a freshman with a lot of ability and enthusiasm. She is ready for the challenge of college tennis and to make an impact early."

    Notre Dame will again play a highly-competitive regular season schedule with matches against eight of last year's top 20 teams and will play in the National Team Indoor Championship, which features the top 16 teams in the country. Highlights of the schedule include Tennessee (Feb. 14), Wisconsin (March 1), vs. Florida (March 11), at Texas (March 14), at Michigan (March 25), at William & Mary (April 4), at Wake Forest (April 9) and at Duke (April 11).

    The Irish have won the BIG EAST Championship in each of their first two seasons as members of the league and will defend their title April 23-26 in Miami.

    "I'm very excited about this team," says Louderback. "We have some valuable experience coming back from last year. We are very excited to play host to the NCAA Championship this spring and we hope that our team is there to be part of it."

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