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Women's tennis prepares for conference tournament

By Rhodes Coffey     4/10/08 7:00pm

When the regular season ends, all records and streaks can be put aside for the glory of the postseason. After picking up another easy victory in their first-ever 7-0 sweep of Southern Methodist University, the No. 63 women's tennis team instantly became the favorite to win the Conference USA title.The University of Houston will host the conference tournament at the Hoff Courts from April 17-20. Currently, there are two other C-USA teams in the national rankings: No. 50 University of Tulsa and No. 62 Marshall University. Three other teams, East Carolina University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and SMU, dropped out in the past month.

In singles play, the tournament will undoubtedly showcase some premier talent. Kellie Schmitt of Marshall will be in the spotlight, coming in with a national ranking of 58. Last year, Schmitt, who reached as high as No. 18 in 2006, took the C-USA Player of the Year award alongside several other honors. She was also invited to the NCAA tournament, but lost in the first round. No. 88 Natalia Bubien of SMU is currently the only other ranked C-USA singles player.

The two singles standouts are also members of the only two ranked doubles teams in C-USA. Schmitt and her partner Karolina Soor are ranked 26th in the nation, while Bubien and fellow Mustang Pavi Francis sit at 41st.

In 2007, Tulsa came away with the C-USA championship by blanking Marshall 4-0, which Rice lost to in the semifinals. However, the year before last was an historic one for the Owls: Rice pulled off the upset victory over SMU in the conference finals to win the championship and a spot in the NCAA tournament. In addition, head coach Roger White received the C-USA Coach of the Year award and then-senior Blair DiSesa (Martel '06) picked up Player of the Year honors as well as All-American recognition. This year, Rice will likely receive a first round bye in the single elimination bracket.

"We are very experienced with the conference tournament," White said. "Across the line, each player has stepped up her play of late and will look to continue playing well in the tournament."

With all the anticipation of the upcoming postseason play, Rice maintained its focus against SMU last weekend in outstanding fashion. The Texas teams have faced each other many times, but never in their extensive history had Rice swept the match. This time, however, the Owls added a new chapter to the books by shutting out their Mustang foes.

Starting off the day, the doubles duo of freshman Varsha Shiva-Shankar and junior Emily Braid grabbed an 8-1 win over Sarah Acosta and Jordan Hamilton for their 11th consecutive doubles victory.

After Bubien and Francis knotted up the doubles score, senior Tiffany Lee and sophomore Rebecca Lin pulled ahead of Kristen Reid and Nicole Briceno to seal the doubles point for Rice.

Continuing a streak of stellar match play, Shiva-Shankar led singles off with a 6-0, 6-0 domination of Acosta. Junior Dominique Karas finished close behind with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Francis. In yet another straight-set triumph, Braid was victorious 6-4, 6-2 over Lindsay Norman in the five-hole to clinch the dual match win for Rice.

With play continuing, sophomore Julie Chao picked apart long-time rival Bubien for a 6-4, 6-3 win, after which Lee won 6-3, 7-5 over Reid. Lastly, Lin came from behind to defeat Briceno 4-6, 6-4, 1-0 (6) and sealed the 7-0 sweep.

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