Originally Posted by NYKiriFan
Congrats to Stanford. This may be the toughest road any team in any sport has ever had to an NCAA title. The Card had to beat the other four best teams in the country -- the three SEC tri-champions and the undefeated PAC-12 champion USC. It's an extraordinary achievement to win the title in this situation when there was so little separating the top 5 or 6 teams.
I would stop short of calling any of Stanford's victories upsets or calling the title run improbable. Everyone knew that Stanford was much better than its No. 12 seed indicated, for three reasons:
(1) Stanford always had the best player in the country, defending NCAA champion Nicole Gibbs, but this fact was not reflected in the seedings. Nicole dabbled with pro tournaments during the year and had little to prove during the regular season, so her dual performance was so-so. But there was no question that an NCAA team title was the one college tennis goal she had yet to fulfill - one that she came oh-so-close to achieving freshman year. Her game relies a lot on motivation and there was no question she would be highly motivated. This showed most clearly when Gibbs obliterated the current No. 1 player who stole Stanford's 2011 title, Lauren Embree, and left her with a bagel and a breadstick. Gibbs dominance was beautiful, and her energy clearly inspires everyone around her like no other athlete I've ever seen.
(2) Apart from Gibbs and Tan, this team relied heavily on youth (e.g. Hardebeck) and a player recovering from injury (e.g. Ahn). You knew these players would start slow but would have a steep learning curve, and they'd be reliable in the end.
(3) All NCAA sports do an embarrassing job of seeding teams, and there's no question the PAC-12 teams were horribly underseeded in this women's tennis bracket. If you look at any model with firm statistical foundations (e.g. look at the Massey ratings for women's college tennis), USC should have been No. 1 and Stanford should have been No. 7, roughly. Instead USC was No. 5 and Stanford was No. 12. It's pathetic that the NCAA that engages so many institutions of higher education can't use basic statistical methods to rank teams. Stanford had a much harder road to the title than it should have had, and it's great the team could overcome that.
So the run was hardly improbable, but it's still truly impressive. Three of the four matches were oh-so-close and came down to a 4-3 win with a three-set decisive match that could've gone either way. Each of those matches had a different clincher -- Tsay, Hardebeck, and then Ahn, while Gibbs set the tone by closing out each of her matches at No. 1 decisively. This is a run clearly worthy of legendary status.
Having watched so many championship teams at Stanford...by far...this is the most exciting and memorable championship run and one of the most challenging
Indeed, being the #12 seed created more obstacles a tougher draw than it should have been. I agree that a #7 seed would have been more fitting but somehow the Cards dug deep into the trenches and pulled it off so the victory is well deserved
We all joked that Mal turning pro, Stanford played down 0-1 to start each match...hence, we saw so many 4-3 thrillers