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Women's tennis rebounds with home win after UT loss

By Prem Ramkumar     1/29/09 6:00pm

The women's tennis team has found a consistent force and unexpected star in redshirt freshman Jessica Jackson, who has yet to lose a match this year in singles play. This past weekend, Jackson and the Owls (3-1) traveled to Austin, where they lost a 1-6 decision to the 16th-ranked University of Texas before returning home to put away Sam Houston State by the reverse score. According to Jackson, the players were optimistic about their chances against the Longhorns.

"Before the match we were all really excited and confident," Jackson said. "Last year ... we nearly beat them. We went in knowing we could win, but that it would be tough. We didn't play the big points well, but we still walked away motivated."

Jackson played a gutsy match at Austin's Penick-Allison Center where she narrowly, albeit convincingly, edged Texas's Stephanie Davison 7-5, 6-4.

Head coach Elizabeth Schmidt praised Jackson's competitive play after a season out of action.

"Jessica's playing really well," Schmidt said. "You never know how players are going to respond after being redshirted, but she responded like a champion. She comes out and plays hard and has brought a lot of energy to the court. I couldn't be more pleased with the way she's been playing. She's a team player and takes care of business on the court."

Still, Rice had other bright spots in its close match against Texas (1-0). Sophomore Varsha Shiva-Shanker stole a set from Maggie Mello before falling 2-6, 6-3, 3-6.

Schmidt described the match as a loss with several positives.

"As a team we had really close scores," Schmidt said. "We were right there and we just have to continue to work hard. We got some opportunities, but we just had to take them. I'm never happy with a loss, but there are still many things to be happy about. We just need to get to that next level."

After the disappointing loss, the Owls had only a day to recover before returning home to play Sam Houston State (0-1) on Sunday. The team rebounded nicely with a resilient effort in their 6-1 victory over the Bearkats at Jake Hess Tennis Stadium.

Jackson thinks the team's ability to compartmentalize brought them the victory.

"I think we bounce back really quickly," she said. "We are overall a very confident team and we just need to take each match as it [comes]. We don't let one match affect another, and that's a quality of a great team."

At the beginning of the match, it looked as though Sam Houston State was going to have the upper hand as they took a quick doubles point win. At the No. 1 spot, the Bearkats' Irina Sotnikova and Peta Taylor defeated junior Julie Chao and freshman Ana Guzman 8-4. But comeback victories by Jackson and Shiva-Shankar at No. 2 and senior Emily Braid and freshman Alex Rasch at No. 3 helped the Owls hold on to the advantage.

In singles, Sotnikova beat Chao in a heartbreaking loss 3-6, 6-4, 9-11.

However, Rice's five other singles players - Guzman, Jackson, Shiva- Shanker, Rasch and junior Rebecca Lin - all dispatched their opponents in straight sets.

With their record improved, the Owls return to action this coming Saturday and Sunday when they play host to the University of Texas-Arlington at 1:30 p.m. and Texas State University at 11 a.m., respectively.

Although she is happy with the team's record, Schmidt still believes the team has things to work on.

"It's nice to be 3-1, but it's still really early," she said. "We have to take care of the little things now to take care of the big things later. You really find out about the character of your team."

Part of that character, Schmidt said, lies in the squad's ability to rebound from tough losses like the one that came against Texas.

"It's what you do after a loss, and we came out and played well against Sam Houston with our ability to rebound.

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