Stanford becomes lowest seed to win NCAA crown, defeats Texas A&M 4-3
URBANA, Ill. -- An ankle injury ended Kristie Ahn's All-American freshman year during the postseason, turning her into a helpless spectator as Stanford fell to Florida in the NCAA championship at Taube.
Ahn's sophomore year was cut even shorter, playing in only three dual matches as she battled an assortment of injuries and rehabbed tirelessly to get back into playing shape.
So, you could say the junior basically made up for lost time on Tuesday night.
Ahn's 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 win clinched a dramatic 4-3 victory for No. 12 Stanford against No. 3 Texas A&M, capping an emotional week of heart-stopping comebacks and heroic moments at the 2013 NCAA Women's Tennis Championships.
OK, so the Cardinal wasn't exactly Cinderella. The most storied program in women's tennis history, Stanford (22-4, 8-2 Pac-12) claimed its 18th national championship (17 NCAA, 1 AIAW) and first since 2010 in Athens, Ga. The Cardinal also collected its NCAA-best 129th postseason victory.
That being said, this Stanford team became the lowest-seeded squad (No. 12) to capture an NCAA title. The Cardinal simply just kept defying the odds, knocking off the tournament's Nos. 5, 4, 1 and 3 seeds during a span of five days. It was an incredible accomplishment for a club that lost its No. 2 player and All-American Mallory Burdette in September, as she elected to forego her senior season and begin her pro career.
The story doesn't stop there.
Only junior Nicole Gibbs and senior Stacey Tan had competed in more than two NCAA tournament matches prior to this season. A walk-on during her first two seasons, senior Natalie Dillon had not played in the lineup full-time until her junior year. Given the scope of her injuries, who knew what Ahn could provide in a full season? Sophomore Ellen Tsay had limited NCAA experience and freshman Krista Hardebeck was just making her debut. In many respects, this was arguably one of the best coaching jobs by head coach Lele Forood and associate head coach Frankie Brennan during their legendary tenure.
Sniffing an opportunity against Texas A&M (26-4, 12-1 SEC), a newcomer to the NCAA title match scene whose best previous appearance was a round of 16 showing, Stanford was up to the task early on.
The Cardinal claimed the doubles point for the 23rd time in 26 matches, taking a pivotal 1-0 lead. With the matches split on the top two courts, Dillon and Hardebeck pulled away from the sister combo of Ines Deheza and Paula Deheza on Court 3 by an 8-5 margin.
Moving into singles play, Stanford took a 2-0 lead when Stacey Tan defeated Ines Deheza 7-5, 6-3 at the No. 4 spot. In a battle of senior (Tan) vs. freshman (Deheza), the Cardinal came out on top. After all, how many teams have the luxury of sticking a former NCAA runner-up at the No. 4 spot?
Following that same theme was Gibbs at the top spot of the lineup, although that certainly wasn't the case early on. Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar surprised everyone by blanking Gibbs 6-0 in the first set, becoming the first opponent to accomplish the feat in 120 career matches.
That's when Gibbs flipped the switch. Trailing 2-0 in the second set, Gibbs proceeded to rattle off 12 consecutive games against Sanchez-Quintanar, in a tone-setting 0-6, 6-2, 6-0 triumph at the No. 1 spot. Gibbs, who has publicly voiced her decision to turn pro at the end of this year, now has a team title to go with her defending NCAA singles and doubles crowns from last year. Simply put, Gibbs treated Stanford fans to her best in her last on Tuesday.
Leading 3-0, newcomer Texas A&M found itself on the verge of a laugher. But the Aggies weren't done.
A late addition to the lineup, Anna Mamalat defeated Tsay 6-1, 7-5 at the No. 5 spot , trimming the deficit to 3-1.
Nazari Urbina might have come through with the biggest victory, making sure Hardebeck would not provide the clincher and more Stanford fan excitement for a third consecutive match in a 6-3, 7-6 (3) win on court three.
Stefania Hristov eventually shook off hard-charging Natalie Dillon at the No. 6 position, winning 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 on court six.
Just like that, the match was tied.
Ahn had taken her first set 7-5 before Stancu won the second frame 6-4. Tied at 2-2 in deciding set, Ahn put her foot on the gas and placed the Cardinal on her back.
After a series of championship points, Stancu belted a forehand that sailed wide, and Ahn prepared herself for an ensuing dogpile after taking the final set 6-2.