Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - June 1, 2012

Historic NCAA tennis finish for teammates

Gibbs wins singles title before teaming with Burdette to claim national doubles crown in women's tourney

The Stanford women's tennis team didn't win an NCAA championship this season, but the Cardinal certainly didn't go home empty-handed.

Sophomore Nicole Gibbs became Stanford's first NCAA women's singles champion since 2004 by downing teammate Mallory Burdette, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3, in the finals on Monday in Athens, Ga.

Despite a rain delay that forced them inside, Gibbs and Burdette joined forces to win the NCAA doubles title later in the day with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Georgia's Chelsey Gullickson and Nadja Gilchrist.

It was the perfect ending to the NCAA tournament for the Cardinal as it was the first time in NCAA men's or women's tennis history that teammates squared off in the singles final before pairing up in the doubles title match.

"Today's probably one of the biggest days in our program's history," Stanford coach Lele Forood said. "It's very exciting, especially because no one's graduating. So, we go forward from here. It's quite an amazing day. It's hard to play your teammate in such a big moment and then to come back and double with them to a title. That's a testament to how mature they both are and that they could do what they had to do today."

In a unique head-to-head singles matchup that lasted nearly three hours and featured several tense moments, fans saw a mixture of incredible shot-making, pinpoint placement and lengthy, well-executed rallies, even despite the occasional ill-timed double fault.

Rallying from a first-set loss and shaking off deficits of 4-1 and 5-2 in the second set, Gibbs became the 15th all-time collegiate singles champion in school history and the 13th in NCAA history.

Gibbs is the first Stanford player to capture the NCAA singles crown since Amber Liu repeated as champion in 2004. Gibbs (41-5 overall) also became the first Stanford player to win both titles in the same year since Linda Gates accomplished the feat in 1985.

In addition, Gibbs and Burdette were the first all-Stanford NCAA singles final since 2001, when Laura Granville beat Lauren Kalvaria, 6-3, 7-6 (7-1), in Stone Mountain, Ga.

"It's always a very tough situation to be playing your teammate, and then I got down 6-2, 4-1 to a girl that has been playing incredible tennis, but I just didn't let myself give up from that point," Gibbs said. "I had worked too hard and come too far in this tournament to just lay down, but at the same time I got very lucky to turn that match around. I still consider myself very lucky for that win."

Burdette stormed to a 6-2 win in the first set and appeared to be in control with a 4-1 lead in the second. But Gibbs ripped off three straight games to even the set at 4-4 and actually led 6-5 before Burdette broke Gibbs for a 6-6 tie.

In the second-set tiebreaker, Gibbs raced out to a 2-0 lead before Burdette won five straight points. Gibbs then countered with five straight points and closed out the tiebreaker at 7-6 (7-5).

After alternating holds on service games early in the third set, Gibbs owned a 3-2 advantage. Gibbs moved ahead 5-2 before Burdette held and cut the deficit to 5-3 before Gibbs eventually finished the match.

"Nicole is very good at stepping it up when her opponent is about to close things out," Burdette said. "That's her specialty, and she definitely made it tough for me out there in the end. I'm really proud of the week that I've had here. Hats off to Nicole for playing a great match in the finals."

In doubles play, Burdette and Gibbs continued their dominating postseason play. The All-American duo did not drop a set and surrendered four games or more in a set twice.

After cruising to a 6-2 victory in the first set, Burdette and Gibbs moved ahead 3-1 in the second set. Georgia's duo of Gilchrist and Gullickson managed to hang close, creeping to within 4-3 and 5-4. Burdette and Gibbs then broke serve and locked up the second set at 6-4 to secure the championship.

Stanford has now produced the past three NCAA doubles championship teams, with Barte and Lindsay Burdette claiming the crown in 2010 before Barte and Mallory Burdette took home the hardware last year.

Burdette and Gibbs bring home Stanford's 15th overall collegiate doubles title in school history, and eighth since the since the NCAA adopted its current format in 1982.

On Sunday, Stanford senior Bradley Klahn dropped his semifinal match to top-ranked and top-seeded Steve Johnson of USC, who successfully defended his national title with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Kentucky's Eric Quigley on Monday.

The men's doubles title went to top-ranked Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola of Ohio State, who beat Texas Tech's Raony Carvalho and Gonzalo Escobar, 7-6, 6-3.

Women's golf

Caroline O'Connor has resigned her position as Stanford's head coach after 17 seasons.

"I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the Stanford community and to have worked with so many extraordinary student-athletes and coaches for the past 17 years," said O'Connor.

Stanford made 15 trips to the NCAA Championships during O'Connor's tenure, including three top-five finishes. In 2000, Stanford finished second at the championships, marking the program's best national finish in school history. Stanford also placed fourth in 1997 and fifth in 2007.

Synchronized swimming

Stanford synchronized swimming head coach Heather Olson has announced her retiring from coaching as of Sept. 1, 2012. Current Stanford assistant coach Sara Lowe will take over the reigns as head coach for the Cardinal.

A former synchronized swimmer for the Cardinal, Olson graduated from Stanford in 1999 and took over the head coaching role in 2001. As both a student-athlete and coach, Olson played a role in five of the six Stanford collegiate national championships, as a student-athlete in 1998 and as a coach for four straight seasons from 2005-08.

"I am excited to have this time to be home with my children, but I will miss being a part of the Stanford family immensely, Olson said.

In 2008, under the guidance of Olson, Stanford became the first collegiate team to capture a U.S. national title. Lowe, then a senior, placed first in the solo, duet and team competitions for the Cardinal.

Women's volleyball

Stanford last won an NCAA championship in 2004. Head coach John Dunning hopes his latest recruiting will bring the Cardinal another in short order. Dunning has five freshmen that will join the team this fall and help it contend for a Pac-12 championship and the program's seventh NCAA title. Moreover, the class is rated No. 1 in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com.

The group includes Mountain View grad and All-American Brittany Howard, Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year Inky Ajanaku, two-time North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year Madi Bugg, National Gatorade Player of the Year Jordan Burgess and All-American Megan McGehee.

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