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Women's tennis piles on Abilene Christian

By Rhodes Coffey     3/20/08 7:00pm

With a six-match winning streak under its belt, it would have been easy for the women's tennis team to become complacent. Add to that the distraction of Willy Week, and it would have been really easy for No. 64 Rice to let last week's match with Abilene Christian University slip through its fingers. But the Owls staved off complacency until after executing a perfect 7-0 victory over the Wildcats, choosing to take the rest of the weekend off to relax from their otherwise hectic schedule.Rice will continue welcoming local opponents to Jake Hess Tennis Stadium for the near future, as they take on Texas State University tomorrow at 3 p.m. and the University of Texas-Arlington Sunday at 1 p.m. Just as with recent opponents, the Owls should have little trouble with the Bobcats, who are 5-6 on the year, or the Roadrunners, who have lost their last three matches by a combined score of 16-5.

The match against UTA was rescheduled from earlier in the season because the Roadrunners were plagued by injuries and unable to field a full team. UTA's number one player, Klara Jagosova, will also be seeking revenge on Chao after the Owl gutted out a hard-fought 6-2, 6-2 victory in September at the Rice Classic.

With one month until conference, it is time to start paying attention to future Conference USA competition. Currently, there are four C-USA teams ranked in the top 75 nationally, with No. 48 University of Tulsa and No. 62 Marshall University leading the way. Historically, both of those teams have played strongly in the conference tournament and worked their way into the NCAA tournament. This year, however, No. 73 East Carolina University and Southern Methodist University, which Rice faces on April 5 in Dallas, Texas, have also appeared in the rankings at least once.

Chao said the Owls are aiming for a deep postseason run.

"Now that the season is almost over, our goal is to win conference and make it to the NCAA tournament," Chao said. "Each match, we are just trying to get better and better and not only get the win but really beat these teams, such as in the 7-0 win over Abilene Christian."

With the music blasting across campus last Friday afternoon, the team blocked out all noise and hit the courts against the Wildcats. Starting off in doubles, junior Emily Braid and freshman Varsha Shiva-Shankar cleaned house in a 8-1 victory over Natalie Friend and Dina Pavlin at No. 3. Senior Tiffany Lee and sophomore Rebecca Lin sealed the doubles point for Rice with an 8-5 win over Irene Squillaci and Jaclyn Walker at No. 2.

As the season goes by, it is more apparent that Rice has vastly improved the doubles portion of the game. Unlike last year, when doubles points were few and far between, this year has seen the team dominate the beginning of matches - the Owls have won 10 straight doubles points.

As singles began, Chao made quick work of her opponent at the top of the lineup, attacking Squillaci with a barrage of winners for a complete 6-1, 6-0 win.

On the other end of the courts, Shiva-Shankar hustled her way to a 7-5, 6-2 triumph over Friend after being tied 5-5 in the first set.

Before the Roadrunners had any chance to regroup, Braid clinched the overall victory for Rice in a close contest with Pavlin at No. 5. With her match featuring some of the longest volleys of the day, Braid came through with a 6-4, 6-4 win. In an even tighter match, Lee held on for a 6-4, 7-5 win over Brown to tally another point.

Rounding out the 7-0 thumping, Karas and Lin grabbed super tiebreaker wins: Karas nailed Rafolomanantsia 2-6, 6-3, 1-0 (2) and Lin defeated Walker 7-6, 4-6, 1-0 (3).

Though Abilene Christian appeared overmatched at nearly every position, head coach Roger White said the women did not lowball their abilities to compensate for it.

"Respect equals performance and ultimate respect is ultimate performance," White said. "We had the ability to not lose a match and we played absolutely tough to earn that respect.

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