tennis-women-d1 flag | April 3, 2014

All-division preview: Pac-12 race between Stanford, Cal., USC, UCLA to possibly get clearer

  California has a chance to break the streak of Pac-12 titles won by UCLA, USC or Stanford.

In what is quickly shaping up as the most important weekend on the Pac-12 schedule, the Bay Area schools are scheduled to host the Southern California schools in critical dual matches.

For No. 4 Stanford, that means visits to The Farm from No. 3 UCLA (Friday) and No. 13 Southern California (Saturday), weather permitting. No. 12 California hosts the same schools on opposite days.

All four schools enter the weekend with a 5-0 conference record, providing a golden opportunity for any team that can emerge with a sweep. Picking up valuable head-to-head tiebreakers will provide an inside track to the Pac-12 regular-season title, which has either been won outright or shared by either Stanford, UCLA or USC during the past 16 years.

Stanford has notched eight shutouts and boasts victories against nationally ranked teams such as Texas, Rice, Florida, California and Arizona State.

Stanford has won 19 consecutive matches dating back to last year’s NCAA championship run, in which the Cardinal closed out the postseason with six wins in a row.

The stakes will be high once again this weekend, starting with a visit to Taube Family Tennis Stadium from UCLA (17-1) in a battle of top-five teams. The Bruins’ only loss came to current No. 1 Duke in the championship match of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships back in February. UCLA has blanked its past five opponents and won the doubles point in every match this year, thanks to a pair of talented duos ranked among the nation’s top five.

USC (14-4), which plays at California on Friday, enters the weekend having won five consecutive matches. Two of USC’s four losses have come at the hands of UCLA, and the SoCal rivals are guaranteed to square off at least one more time in late April to close out the regular season. Stanford’s recent battles with USC have been well-documented: the Women of Troy have won two of the past three, but the Cardinal’s only win during that stretch was an upset that sparked last year’s NCAA title run.

Meanwhile, Stanford continues to trot out one of the nation’s deepest starting lineup -- one that also includes three freshmen. All six singles competitors own a national ranking: Kristie Ahn (No. 2), Taylor Davidson (27), Carol Zhao (28), Caroline Doyle (37), Krista Hardebeck (39) and Ellen Tsay (42).

Two doubles teams are ranked: Ahn/Zhao (10) and Davidson/Tsay (36).

Around DI: Fifth-ranked Alabama finishes its home slate with a match against No. 10 Texas A&M on Friday and Missouri on Saturday. ... No. 6 North Carolina takes on No. 14 Miami (Fla.) on Saturday. ... Florida, the seventh-ranked team in the nation, plays its final regular-season away match against No. 24 Mississippi on Sunday. ... No. 15 Clemson has gotten off to its best start in the ACC since 2004 (8-0) and looks to stay perfect when it hosts No. 38 Florida State on Friday and going to ninth-ranked Virginia on Sunday.

Around DII: The Sunshine State Conference title will be won by either top-ranked Barry or fifth-ranked Lynn when the two meet on Saturday. ... Either second-ranked Armstrong Atlantic or No. 6 Columbus State will suffer their first Peach Belt Conference loss when the two square off on Saturday. ... No. 10 Florida Southern faces No. 16 Valdosta State also on Saturday.

Around DIII:Two of the nation's best meet on Saturday when top-ranked Johns Hopkins and No. 3 Emory meet. ... The New England Small College Athletic Conference's top two teams meet fourth-ranked Amherst and No. 8 Middlebury meet on Sunday. ... The West Coast also features a pair of top-10 teams meeting with No. 5 Claremont-M-S facing sixth-ranked Pomona-Pitzer on Saturday.

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