In the buildup to the 2019 NCAA Division I Tennis Championships, set to be held at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., for the first time May 16-25, USTA.com will feature some of the title contenders in this "Road to Orlando" series. First up are the defending women's champions, the Stanford Cardinal.
Stanford’s women’s team is no stranger to success, boasting one of the most prestigious histories in the nation on and off the court. The Cardinal, having five out of 12 players in their senior year for the 2019 campaign, are coming off a resilient 2018 season that ended with the glory of the NCAA Division I Women’s Tennis Championship title.
The Cardinal brought home the trophy in both 2016 and 2018, giving the current seniors two titles in their four years at the school. Head coach Lele Forood, who is in her 19th season coaching at Stanford, noted the challenges and successes the 2017-18 season brought.
“As coaches, we are most proud of our resilience in February and March last year, to not let early season struggles define us,” she said. “Then we built momentum in March and April … We had a brutally tough draw in the NCAA tournament. Taking it one match at a time, we put a championship run together.”
Seniors Caroline Lampl and Melissa Lord were both Cardinal captains when program captured its 19th NCAA title. Although winning the championship their freshman year was captivating, their role as captains made the second championship all the more memorable.
“There have been so many amazing moments, including winning it my freshman year,” Lampl said. “I think what made it better my junior year was Melissa and I both being captains. There was a little more stress and pressure to do well. During the fall, we really didn’t have the best start to the season, so it was really amazing to see our progress throughout the year and seeing the team play our best tennis. It was a beautiful moment.”
Lord agrees that winning the NCAA championship her junior year was an unforgettable moment. Although she was unable to play until the end of March due to a shoulder injury, she didn’t let that stop her come tournament time. Lord’s singles win in the final against Vanderbilt proved to be the clinching point that gave Stanford the 4-3 victory.
“Clinching the national championship was something I didn’t expect, but it’s a moment I can look back on and say, ‘I did that,’” Lord reflected. “It was so nice because our team worked so hard over the years. It was amazing to see that all the hard work and sacrifice had really paid off in the end.”
The Cardinal are clearly made up of strong individual players and a skillful coach, but Lampl credits the success to the strong team bond, too.
“I think one of the reasons the program has been so successful in the past few years is because we don’t see each other only as teammates,” she said. “I mean this from the bottom of my heart. We get along so well. We’re all really good friends and care about each other not only when it comes to tennis, but everything personal. I think that’s one of the reasons our team does so well, because we genuinely care so much.”
Coach Forood can also be credited for keeping team comradery high and creating a familial environment for her student-athletes. In addition to guiding them on the court, she makes sure to keep them focused on succeeding in their academic pursuits.
“Our biggest challenge is always the same,” Forood said. “Do quality academic work and continue to grow as an individual and as a member of a team, while playing tennis and improving as an athlete at pretty much a professional level.”
The team continues to impress spectators this season as they flourish on the courts. The Cardinal will continue to vie for the opportunity to play at the NCAA Championships in May at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., as their bid for back-to-back national titles ramps up.
(Photo courtesy of Stanford University; pictured: sophomore Michaela Gordon)