AZ tennis teams get NCAA invites; 25th in a row for ASU

The suspense is over for Arizona’s Pac-12 women’s tennis teams.  Both will be appearing in this year’s NCAA Championships.

Neither Arizona or Arizona State could be sure about an invitation this year – although the Wildcats had to be feeling better about their chances than ASU.  The Cats are the No. 27-ranked team in the country and the Sun Devils will enter the tourney as the No. 36 team.

Arizona actually moved up in the polls, since they began the season ranked No. 32.  But injuries have weakened the ASU effort- they’ve played some matches this season with as few as four players – and the Sun Devils dropped from their No. 19 spot in the first 2012 rankings, issued the first week of January.

Selections to the tournament’s field of 64 teams were announced last night, and the ASU players were huddled in front of the computer screen when the NCAA Selection Show began at 5 o’clock, knowing they were an iffy bubble team and might be the first ASU women’s tennis team in a quarter century to fail to get into the post-season.

This will be the 25th straight NCAA post-season appearance, and 27th overall, for ASU’s head coach, Sheila McInerney.  In her 28th season at the helm of the tennis program, McInerney has led the Sun Devils to 18 NCAA Sweet 16 appearances.

She currently holds the longest consecutive NCAA post-season appearance streak of any sport at ASU.

Last year’s ASU squad finished fourth in the Pac-10 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Championships.   The Wildcats, under 11th-year head coach Vicky Maes, returned six players from a 2011 squad that went 15-9, made it into the post-season, and finished the season ranked No. 35.

The head-to-head match-up between the two rivals a couple of weeks ago left a bitter taste for the injury-plagued Sun Devils.  Arizona put a 7-0 whuppin’ on the Devils in Tucson – the first time since 2004 that the Cats have come out on top against ASU.

That win also enabled Arizona to complete a perfect home season, beating 13 teams on the Cats’ own courts, 12 of which were ranked in the top 75 at the time.

Both teams had some success at this year’s conference championships that ended Saturday.  ASU sophomore Leighann Sahagun got as far as the semifinals of the Pac-12 Singles Invitational and the UofA doubles team of senior Sarah Landsman and freshman Hailey Johnson lost in the final round of the Doubles Invitational bracket.

The Wildcats are up first in the NCAA Tournament and will take on Minnesota (16-8) on May 11 in the North Carolina Regional.  ASU plays the next day, scheduled to meet up with Clemson (15-9) at the University of Georgia site.

“It was really exciting to see we were going to play at Georgia against a very difficult draw, playing Clemson right off the bat,” said McInerney after the celebration at the Selection Show had died down and the Devils knew who their opponent would be.

“We’re a three-seed and Clemson is a very talented two-seed, so it will be a challenge.  This group has never played in Athens and to play where the Sweet 16 will be held is exciting.”

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)