April 28, 2004
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Sixty-four teams will play in the 2004 NCAA Women's Tennis Championships. If Purdue wants to be one of those 64, it will have to bolster its case for a bid this weekend, when it competes at the Big Ten Championships in Evanston, Ill.
The 50th-ranked Boilermakers, who own a 9-13 overall record and a 3-7 Big Ten mark, own the No. 8 seed in the conference postseason tournament. They will match up against ninth-seeded and unranked Michigan State (8-13, 3-7 Big Ten) in the first round Thursday, at 10 a.m.
The grudge match pits Purdue against a Spartan team that handed it a tough-to-swallow 4-3 upset loss in West Lafayette, on April 17. Two weeks later, Boilermaker head coach Mat Iandolo still is seeing red over the defeat at the hands of the Green and White.
"I think that was probably one of our worst doubles performances of the year," Iandolo says.
The regular-season loss to Michigan State was one of four the Boilermakers suffered by one point in Big Ten competition this spring. Flip those scores in Purdue's favor, and the Boilermakers are sitting pretty with a 7-3 league record, which would be good for the No. 4 seed behind No. 1 Northwestern (9-1), No. 2 Indiana (9-1), and No. 3 Illinois (8-2).
As it is, however, the Boilermakers must match up against the Spartans in one of three first-day contests. The reward for the winner of the Purdue-Michigan State match is a meeting with the top-seeded and 11th-ranked Wildcats, who are playing host to the tournament at the Vandy Christie and Combe Indoor tennis centers.
First things first. Purdue must figure out how to knock off the pesky Spartans, whose win at Purdue two weeks ago snapped the Boilermakers' 13-match win streak in the series, a streak that lasted nine years.
Senior co-captain Melissa Woods, who will be playing in the last Big Ten Championships of her career, believes the second go-round with Michigan State will have a different result.
"I'm looking forward to it," Woods says of the rubber match. "They're a good team and we're a good team. I think it's time for revenge, and I think everyone's ready."
Woods will hold down the No. 6 singles position, and will play at No. 1 doubles for the Boilermakers. Her doubles partner, fellow senior Gretchen Haynor, will slide down from No. 2 singles to No. 4, making room for freshman Alyssa Rodriguez. Junior Amy Walgenbach will hold down the No. 3 spot, and classmate Shawna Zuccarini will play No. 5.
At No. 2 doubles, Zuccarini will partner with freshman Hala Sufi, who also is Purdue's No. 1 singles player. Rodriguez and junior Lara Burgarello will handle the No. 3 doubles position.
With two freshmen at the No. 1 and No. 2 singles positions, Purdue is unique. But Sufi and Rodriguez are prepared for and experienced in big matches. Sufi, a native of Tucson, graduated from Catalina Foothills High School as the only girl ever to win four Arizona Class 4A state championships. Rodriguez, from Houston, was the district, regional and Texas 5A state champion as a senior at Jersey Village High School.
Iandolo is pleased with his rookies, who lead the team in singles victories this year at 21 apiece.
"We have some young people in some very high and prominent positions on the team," Iandolo says. "As they get more experience, every week they're getting better and better."
Sufi, who has climbed from No. 3 singles to the top spot, would like to see the Boilermakers cash in on their opportunities this weekend.
"Hopefully we'll come through on the big points, because it's the big points in the big matches that we lost," Sufi says. "Hopefully this time we'll win them and turn things around."
According to Sufi, focus and concentration are the ingredients to success. The prize would be an NCAA bid, which would be its fourth overall and second straight in program history. Iandolo thinks the invite is well within reach.
"I think (this) weekend has great significance to us because we have a pretty good shot of making the NCAA tournament," Iandolo says. "I would say that beating Michigan State would go a long way toward putting us in position to be in the tournament."
Purdue, which has never won a Big Ten title, has 4-3 wins against No. 17 Illinois and No. 27 Notre Dame to its credit. In addition, the Boilermakers can use slim, one-point losses to No. 12 Kentucky, No. 25 Indiana, No. 27 Michigan and No. 40 Missouri to help fortify their argument.
The past matters little now, as the Boilermakers enter the postseason. How long they can extend the season into the future seems to be wholly in their control.
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