Vanderbilt women open play in NCAA tennis

Friday, May 9, 2008 at 1:24am

Handicapping the field is no easy matter – but coach Geoff Macdonald feels good about his Vanderbilt team’s chances as the NCAA women’s tennis tournament opens today.

The No. 11 ranked Commodores would qualify as a darkhorse, a role Macdonald relishes as his team opens play for its 14th straight appearance in the big show.

Vanderbilt (18-5) meets Missouri Valley Conference champ Indiana State (13-6) at 1 p.m., following a match between Kentucky and Boise State at 10 a.m. on Vanderbilt’s Currey courts. Winners meet Saturday at 12 noon for a trip to the Sweet 16.

“I feel very good about our chances,’’ Macdonald said during a practice earlier this week on the Commodore courts. “I really think it’s wide open.

“Last year, Georgia Tech won it when the draw opened up for them with some upsets of Stanford and other teams early on,’’ he said. “The same thing could happen with us.’’

But first things first. Vanderbilt ranks as a prohibitive favorite over Indiana State and is projected to meet Kentucky, which is favored over Boise. Vanderbilt took a 5-2 decision over Kentucky last month just before the SEC tournament, but it was anything but easy.

“It was very close,’’ Macdonald said. “The final two matches were both 5-5 in the third set, and we came out ahead in both. Had we lost those two, we would have lost the match, 4-3.’’

Vanderbilt is led by senior ace Amanda Taylor, ranked No. 23 and who has received an invitation to play in the NCAA singles tourney.

Asked if she were the best player he’s ever coached, Macdonald said, “Amanda is playing on another level. She ranks up there with (All-Americans) Julie Ditty (who is playing on the pro tour) and Sarah Riske, any of them. She has consistently gotten better, year by year.’’

Seniors Taylor, Taka Bertrand and Caroline Ferrell will all don graduation robes for graduation this morning at 9, then make the short walk over to the courts for their final home appearance of their Vanderbilt careers.

“It’s going to be an exciting day,’’ Taylor said “I’m so glad to be able to play a home regional my senior year. To go far, we’re going to have to re-double our efforts.’’

Regional winners advance to the Sweet 16 team event, opening May 16 in Tulsa, Okla. (men and women).

• Macdonald has announced the signings of nationally ranked players Jackie Wu of New Jersey, Chelsea Creed, Naples, Fla., and Heather Steinbauer of Houston, Texas. And former Ryan star Hannah Blatt, who decided not to transfer to Oklahoma last year, returned to Vanderbilt as a sophomore and is competing on the team.

• The No. 29-ranked Vanderbilt men (13-9), led by ace and All-SEC player Ryan Preston, travel to Oxford, Miss., for their region. The Commodores meet Indiana in their NCAA Region opener today, 11 a.m., followed by No. 5 seed and host Ole Miss vs. Marist. Winners clash Saturday.

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