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Tuesday, March 28, 2023 — Houston, TX

Women's tennis keeps win streak rolling with victory over UCF

By Rhodes Coffey     3/13/08 7:00pm

Winning streaks are a funny thing. They are both media darlings and fan favorites, but they can find lessened importance if the teams that own them play sloppily and without fire. However, after its sweep of spring break opponents to stretch the winning streak to six matches, no one can accuse the women's tennis team of playing without desire. Over the past two weeks, No. 75 Rice has downed No. 69 California State University-Northridge, the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Central Florida, its first Conference-USA foe of the year.After improving its record to 12-4 on the spring season and 9-1 at Jake Hess Tennis Stadium, the team will host Abilene Christian University this Friday at 3 pm. While Abilene Christian - Rice head coach Roger White's alma mater - may be Division II, they are seventh in the country and have lost only one of the last ten matches. They also feature the doubles tandem of Irene Squillaci and Aina Rafolomanantsiatosika, the second-ranked team in D-II.

If the Owls beat the Wildcats, they will have won nine of their last ten matches as well. One of those wins came March 2 against Rice's fifth ranked opponent of the year. Facing Cal State-Northridge in windy California conditions, the Owls gave the Matadors no mercy in their 5-2 victory. The win was in front of a relatively bipartisan crowd, however, as half of Rice's team hails from southern California.

Continuing their dominant play, junior Emily Braid and freshman Varsha Shiva-Shankar catapulted themselves out of a 3-0 deficit to win eight straight games against their challengers at No. 3 doubles. Taking their cue immediately afterwards were sophomore Julie Chao and junior Dominique Karas, who clinched the point for Rice with a 8-5 victory over Victoria Brymer and Canna Furuta.

In singles, Chao charged away with a 6-0, 6-3 win over Brymer. Next to finish was the No. 5 slot, with Cal State Northridge's Brooke Doane defeating Braid 6-2, 7-5. Soon after, though, senior Tiffany Lee shifted the momentum back to the Owls by picking up a straight-set win, while sophomore Rebecca Lin clinched the overall victory by dismantling Kristy Fournell 6-3, 7-6 (3) at No. 4. Meanwhile, Karas completed two consecutive tiebreakers and recorded a 7-6 (9), 7-6 (2) victory.

According to White, the conditions made the competition even tougher for the women.

"The demonstration by the team was that we played extremely tough," White said. "It was almost impossible due to the playing conditions, with winds gusting at 30 and 40 miles an hour. The surroundings made it tough, but we performed very well against a good team level with us."

Settling back in at home in Houston, the Owls played host to UTPA last Saturday. Any lingering doubts about the women's continued dominance over unranked opponents were quickly put to rest: Chao and Karas, as well as Braid and Shiva-Shankar, sealed dominant wins for the early lead, and five of six Owls took their singles matches in straight sets.

Well-rested and optimistic about its home momentum, Rice met UCF last Tuesday for its first C-USA action of the year. Despite being unranked, the Golden Knights proved tougher to handle than previous opponents for the Owls. Braid and Shiva-Shankar struck first in doubles, leading to an 8-5 advantage over UCF's Kenza Belbacha and Anna Yakimchenkova, but the Golden Knights showed resiliency as Jennifer Carati and Elvira Serrot overcame a deficit to beat Lee and Lin 8-6. In the rubber match, Chao and Karas pulled ahead with an 8-4 win to give Rice a 1-0 advantage.

Singles then saw Shiva-Shankar make quick work of Carati, with a 6-0, 6-1 win. However, Braid was overpowered at No. 5, and UCF was soon on the board. In a repeat of the previous match, though, Lee trounced her opponent for a 6-4, 6-3 victory.

In a three-set nailbiter at the top of the ladder, Jenny Frisell beat Chao on Center Court to bring UCF within one. But with Rice just one point short of the win, Lin bore down after losing the first set to clinch the Owls' team victory, taking her match by a score of 5-7, 6-2, 6-2.

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