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Women's tennis' streak hits nine with victories over TSU, UTA


Sophomore Julie Chao prepares for a forehand in Rice's 4-0 shutout of UTA last Sunday, extending the Owls' win streak to nine matches. Rice will look to make that run double-digits on April 5 against C-USA foe SMU.

By Rhodes Coffey     3/27/08 7:00pm

At a school where the number of Rhodes Scholars outnumbers the number of national championships, athletic victories never get old. Therefore, the women's tennis team's nine-match winning streak is quite impressive from Rice's point of view, even considering the lowly stature of its opponents. Last weekend, the Owls extended that streak by annihilating Texas State University and the University of Texas-Arlington 4-0 at Jake Hess Tennis Stadium.With the wins, Rice jumped to 55th in the nation with only one match remaining in the regular season. The Owls travel to Dallas, Texas, on April 5 to take on Southern Methodist University, their second Conference USA foe of the year. The Mustangs are streaking as well, but in the opposite direction: Having faced a tough array of opponents in the last month, SMU will look to rebound from a five-match skid.

Rice and SMU have an extensive postseason history, with the Owls getting the better of the Mustangs in each of the last two C-USA Tournaments. Two years ago, Rice lost the regular season matchup in a close finish, but surged back in the postseason with a run of upsets, triumphing as the no. 7 seed over the top-ranked Mustangs to take the conference title. In 2007, Rice was ranked tenth in the conference but ousted second-seeded SMU in a stunning come-from-behind 4-3 victory to advance to the semi-finals.

SMU is only returning two of its six of its singles lineup regulars from last year, and its top player, Natalia Bubien, has already lost to Rice sophomore Julie Chao in each of their last two matchups.

Despite the team's recent history, senior Tiffany Lee, who has experienced those matches first-hand, said this week's contest will be just like any other.

"To me, it is just another match," Lee said. "We want to really show that we are number one in the conference and go out and beat SMU first with the goal to win conference afterwards. We will attack them, working hard at each spot, and showing no mercy."

For a lesson in how to compete with SMU, the Owls need to look no further than how they played Texas State last Saturday. Right off the bat, the No. 1 doubles duo of Chao and senior Dominique Karas blanked Andrea Giraldo and Ashley Ellis 8-0, taking only a half an hour to finish them off. Lee and sophomore Rebecca Lin followed with an 8-2 trouncing of Jennifer Nowland and Sumarie Muller at the second spot on the ladder to secure the doubles point.

Chao dominated Giraldo on center court with a 6-2, 6-1 triumph to begin singles. Lin then shut out Muller 6-0, 6-0, and freshman Varsha Shiva-Shankar completed the dual match victory with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Natalie McLeod.

"That was a good opportunity to get that feel for the postseason and end after four points," head coach Roger White said. "It was fun to watch [the team] play efficient tennis and finish quickly."

On Sunday, Rice continued its winning ways with another easy victory. As the last home match of the season, the day started off with a presentation of flowers to the team's seniors. Graduating seniors Lee, Karas. Christine Dao and former player Kimberley Patenaude were honored and celebrated for helping the Owls achieve four-year marks of an overall 40-7 home record, 385 individual victories, and a conference title in 2006.

"I will remember that day and the huge flowers for the rest of my life," Lee said. "However, in a way, it was somewhat anti-climatic because of the nature of the match against UTA. It did not feel like the last match [at home] because we are so focused on [the] conference [tournament]."

The match with UTA was rescheduled from February because the Mavericks had been plagued with injuries earlier in the season, but the team still could not field a full slate. Rice picked up a default victory at No. 1, and Lee and Lin managed to beat Sara Pesic and Daiana Negreanu in the No. 2 spot to seal the doubles point for Rice.

Rice automatically moved ahead to 3-0 as UTA only played four singles players and forfeited two points. In the No. 3 spot, Hadvigerova knocked off Lee 6-1, 6-1 to earn UTA's lone point, but Karas clinched the match with a 6-1, 6-3 victory. Chao also added on with a 6-2, 7-5 win. Braid muscled out a tough three-set match 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 to complete the 6-1 triumph.

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