Jan. 18, 2017
By Joanne Norell
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — A strong fall season and flashes of great play by both newcomers and veterans portends good things for University of Notre Dame women’s tennis head coach Jay Louderback as the Irish get set to open the 2017 season Sunday.
The Irish entered the first week of January practice both healthy and energetic, setting the tone for an improvement on last year’s 14-14 record. The Irish ended the 2016 season on a high note, advancing to the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship with wins over Pittsburgh and Clemson and coming within a few points of a win over UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Championships.
“You could tell that everybody played a lot over the Christmas break,” Louderback said of his team’s return to practice. “We got to play some doubles starting off Monday and they looked good. We were excited with the way they played and the way we looked right off the bat.
“The way we ended last season, it shows our kids just how close we are to being right there and that’s somewhere they want to go.”
It will be another tough season as the Irish settle into their third ACC campaign. The Irish played in nine 4-3 matches last season, going 4-5 in those contests, and Louderback expects no different this season, but hopes a deeper bench will work to his team’s benefit as the season plays out.
Notre Dame returns five players who saw significant playing time last season in singles: seniors Monica Robinson, Mary Closs and Jane Fennelly and juniors Brooke Broda and Allison Miller. Robinson brings the most experience with a 59-39 career record and having played at the No. 2 slot over the last two seasons. Broda, who posted a 22-1 dual singles record as a sophomore and enters the season ranked No. 92, and Miller were named the team’s Most Valuable Player in 2016 and 2015, respectively, and will look to make strong contributions again this season. Closs and Fennelly also bring a wealth of experience as starters the last two seasons.
Louderback will also look for contributions from a trio of underclassmen. Sophomore Rachel Chong returns healthy this season after sitting out the beginning of 2016 with an injury, while freshmen Bess Waldram and Zoe Spence both posted impressive fall campaigns. Waldram’s 7-2 singles record led the team this fall.
Louderback looks for the Irish to improve on the doubles court this season after struggling over the past two seasons in that area of the match.
“We’ve struggled over the past couple years in doubles and all of the returning players have a lot of experience in doubles,” Louderback said. “We really feel like that is something that will help us a lot, even more so than in singles. I really feel like that experience in doubles will really make a difference.”
Robinson and Broda teamed up to much success this fall, posting a 6-2 mark and advancing to the finals of the ITA Midwest Regional Championship. Fennelly and Waldram were also successful in the fall with a 5-0 record as a tandem.
The Irish won’t find many easy matches on their schedule, which is just fine by Louderback. A tough non-conference slate will provide the perfect segue into the always-dangerous Atlantic Coast Conference season. Seven Irish opponents (No. 2 North Carolina, No. 10 Duke, No. 11 Georgia Tech, No. 12 Miami, No. 14 Michigan, No. 23 Virginia) are ranked in the most recent Oracle/ITA Division I Women’s Tennis Rankings top 25, released Wednesday.
“Our schedule is really good in the way it’s going to help us build up toward those ACC matches,” Louderback said. “It gets tougher and tougher as it goes.”
Notre Dame opens the year against a tough Western Michigan squad that opened the season with dominating wins over Oakland and Valparaiso and who Louderback expects to be solid under second-year head coach Ryan Tomlinson. Louderback also cited tough non-conference challenges against five Big Ten opponents.
The Irish will kick off the 2017 season with a doubleheader against Western Michigan and Wright State at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET, respectively, at the Eck Tennis Pavilion. Live scoring will be available here and here.
Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2014 and coordinates communications efforts for the Notre Dame women's soccer, men's tennis, women's tennis and fencing programs. Norell is a 2011 graduate of Purdue University and earned her master's degree from Georgetown University in 2013.