URBANA — If the website administrator at weather.com has noticed a significant uptick in visits lately, Holly Stalcup might be as responsible as anyone.
As the tournament director for the NCAA tennis championships, the University of Illinois administrator has a keen interest in the weather forecast for the next 12 days for Champaign-Urbana.
“I guess I worry a little bit,” said Stalcup, the director of event management for the UI athletic department. “I have a feeling some time in the two weeks it’s going to rain (at least) one day.”
Timing is of the essence, however, in an event as structured and bustling as this.
If the rain must fall on Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex between now and the wrap-up on Memorial Day, Stalcup fervently hopes it won’t arrive on the tournament’s busiest days. Those would be today and Friday, when a total of 16 matches are scheduled in the team championship bracket. And again on May 22 and 23, when the singles and doubles championships begin.
“Fingers crossed,” Stalcup said Wednesday.
The decision on whether to delay matches or move them indoors rests with the NCAA tennis committee, a 12-member group of administrators and coaches who are on site for the tournament.
If rain arrives in the midst of a match, the court referee can make a determination on whether to continue. There also are head and deputy referees for the men’s and women’s tournaments who monitor court conditions.
“If we notice the wind or really any conditions that would make it unsafe for our student-athletes to continue outside, then that’s how we determine our next steps,” said Mary Berdo, NCAA coordinator for the women’s tennis championships. “But once rain starts falling, we kind of rely on that referee to call play.”
In rainy conditions, referees will pay particular attention to the painted lines on the courts. Those can become unavoidably slippery in the rain.
“They may play through some light drizzle ... but once the lines start to get slick, that’s when we’ll call it,” said Kristin Fasbender, NCAA coordinator for the men’s tennis championships. “So it may look like the court’s not that wet that you couldn’t play on it, but the lines (actually) are too slick.”
If it’s a brief rain, UI court maintenance staff is at the ready to dry the playing surfaces as quickly as possible. Their tools of the trade include 20 squeegees and three supersized air blowers. Stalcup saw similar blowers in action while attending the U.S. Open and recommended that the UI athletic department purchase them for the NCAA Championships. According to Stalcup, each has the drying capacity of at least eight backpack blowers.
UI court maintenance staff also have practiced for the rain, going through dry runs on court surfaces wet by water hoses.
“We’re ready if (rain) happens,” Stalcup said.
Although rare, wind also can shut down a match. If sustained winds of 20 mph or more last for three hours, NCAA protocol is to move indoors.
Should this year’s event be forced to make that move for any reason, the UI is better equipped than most past hosts to handle the match volume. Next door to Khan, the Atkins Tennis Center has six indoor courts. Recent hosts Georgia, Texas A&M and Stanford offered no more than four indoor courts on campus.
Thus, unlike those sites, Illinois can stage all six singles matches simultaneously when two teams square off indoors.
“That is a plus for us,” Stalcup said.
Given the length of the tennis championships, NCAA administrators have come to expect weather interference at some point. And the rain apparently pays no mind to the timing of its arrival. In 2012, the singles portion of the men’s team championship match at Athens, Ga., ended up being forced indoors.
“It’s a spring championship (so) you always go into those knowing that there could be weather,” Berdo said. “No matter whether you’re in the Midwest, you’re in the West, you’re in the South, there’s always the opportunity for weather.”
So the NCAA tennis committee won’t hold it against the current host if it runs into some bad weather luck. Of course, that’s no consolation to Stalcup, who has worked ceaselessly on preparations for this event since the NCAA announced in June 2010 that it was awarding the 2013 tournament to the UI. Perhaps more than anyone, she is rooting for cooperative weather for the next 12 days.
“Just for the well-being of the student-athletes, you want it to be you’re not playing way late into the evening (because of weather delays),” Stalcup said. “And also, I just want to show off our facility outside. We’ve decorated it and everything looks nice.
“This is an outdoor championships and so (the NCAA) will do their best to play it outside.”
Storylines to watch
Big Ten presence
The women’s Sweet 16 includes three teams from the Big Ten — 10th-seeded Michigan, 11th-seeded Northwestern and 15th-seeded Nebraska. Fifth-seeded Ohio State will represent the conference in the men’s round of 16.
Several former Illini tennis players will be on the coaching sidelines for team and/or individual championships. Among those returning to their alma mater are Amer Delic (Florida men’s assistant); Ryler DeHeart (Alabama men’s assistant); Marc Spicijaric (Duke women’s assistant) and Marisa Lambropoulos (Oklahoma women’s volunteer assistant).
The Duke women’s team has reached the round of 16 with basically a roster of four after losing four players to injury and other reasons. A Duke soccer player who played high school tennis has joined the team. Still, the Blue Devils are forfeiting No. 3 doubles and No. 6 singles. It hasn’t stopped them yet.