Men's tennis falls short against southern foes
After a dominant start to their season last weekend against Lamar University (0-1) and Prairie View A&M University (0-1), the Owls were excited about hosting two perennial powerhouses in the University of Texas (2-0) and Louisiana State University (1-0). Rice saw a chance to shine and make a statement to the rest of the nation that it was for real.
However, the Owls were hooked and scratched by the Longhorns and Tigers respectively as they dropped both of their weekend matches, missing out on a golden chance to get their season off to a soaring start.
On Friday, the Owls hosted the Longhorns at the Met Indoor Arena in downtown Houston, hoping to get revenge for the drubbing they got last year, losing 4-0 in Austin. For the doubles point, Texas cruised easily to the early 1-0 lead as they swept all three of the matches, 8-2, 8-2 and 8-7. Rice knew it had put itself in a hole, but realized that there were still many matches to be played. The Owls could not escape the deficit since each of their top three singles seeds — junior Harry Fowler, junior Peter Frank, and senior Sam Garforth-Bles — all dropped his match in two sets. Rice ended up losing the match 5-2. Their only singles' victories were recorded by junior Jonathan Chang and senior Michael Nuesslein.
The Owls were hoping to rebound against LSU on Sunday since they returned to the friendly confines of Jake Hess Stadium. However, the Tigers had other ideas. They jumped out to an early 1-0 lead since the Owls were swept in doubles for the second straight match. Again, Rice was hoping to rally, but its top three seeds faltered as Fowler, Frank, and Garforth-Bles dropped each of its respective matches. LSU came up with the victory 5-2. The story was the same yet again, with Chang and Nuesslein scoring the only wins of the night for the Owls.
With the two losses over the weekend, the Owls are back to .500 with a 2-2 record. Assistant coach Efe Ustundag (Baker '99) said that the Owls did not show enough focus when they needed to and that made up for the difference in the match. In practice this week, Ustundag wanted that to be his team's primary focus.
"Those losses and those matches were not about who had the bigger forehand or the better serve," Ustundag said. "It was about recognizing the big moments and we did not follow our game plan. That was the majority of what we are focused on throughout the week."
Nuesslein agreed that the team struggled in executing its game plan, but he also talked about how the team's doubles play needs to improve, so that the Owls do not keep falling into an early hole.
"In doubles it might only come down to two or three points that decide if you win or lose the match," Nuesslein said. "Last weekend, we were not able to step up our game and we got outplayed in these situations. We have to get better at finishing the points quicker, stop giving away easy points and give the opponent more chances to miss."
The Owls are heading on the road for the first time this year, heading to Waco, Texas this weekend to take part in the first and second rounds of the Indoor Tennis Championships. Rice plays against Florida State University (6-0) on Saturday before a possible matchup with Baylor University (1-1) or New Mexico State University (1-1) on Sunday. With regards to Florida State, Ustundag said he feels that the Owls should be favored to win due to the fact that the Seminoles have lost their top three players, but they cannot be overlooked, as they will be ready to play.
"Florida State lost their top three from last year, but they're a very scrappy bunch," Ustundag said. "They are going to fight you until the last point. They are not as strong as they were last year. However, that certainly will not affect their fight."
Nuesslein mentioned that it would be a tough matchup if the Owls played Baylor University in the next round, because the Bears are ranked fifth in the nation, but that they cannot overlook FSU or they might not even get their shot.
"Before thinking about the second match it's really important for us and our confidence as a team to take care of FSU on Saturday and then think about the match on Sunday," Nuesslein said.
More from The Rice Thresher
There’s no denying it: Rice women’s basketball had a rocky start to the 2019-20 season. Coming off a historic season last year in which the team won 21 straight games and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005, this year’s team registered a middling 5-6 record against non-Conference USA opponents to start the season.
The last time the Rice men’s tennis team took the court for a match was almost three months ago, on Nov. 3, when sophomore Campbell Salmon and junior Mohamed Abdel-Aziz picked up a pair of doubles wins to close out the Ralston/Neufeld Coaches Challenge and the Owls’ 2019 tournament season.
Rice men’s basketball will aim to pick up its second Conference USA win of the season this week when the team faces the University of Texas, El Paso on Thursday night at Tudor Fieldhouse.