Men's tennis dominates Miami, Tyler JC
As the thunderstorms rolled in Saturday morning, the 38th-ranked Owls were not happy at first to hear that they would have to go indoors and play at the Galleria Tennis Athletic Center, but it happened to be a blessing in disguise as it boosted them past 37th-ranked University of Miami and Tyler Junior College last weekend.
With a morning start time at 11 a.m. on Sunday, the Owls showed they were more alert and awake than the Hurricanes as they jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, thanks to dominant doubles play from junior Harry Fowler and senior Christian Saravia, and freshman Leif Berger and senior Sam Garforth-Bles. The Owls survived the gusting winds of the Hurricane and continued to roll over Miami as they swept them away in singles play. Fowler, junior Peter Frank, Garforth-Bles, junior Jonathan Chang and senior Michael Nuesslein all finished off their singles matches in two sets while sophomore Phillip Seifert rallied from a first set loss to win his match in three to sweep away the Hurricanes, 7-0. This win marked the first time in 11 matches that the Owls beat an opponent that was ranked higher than they were.
The Owls had to rest up quickly since they would play Tyler just a few hours after their match with the Hurricanes. Rice showed that it did not have any fatigue, stepping right back onto the court without any issues. The Owls rested some of their stars in Fowler, Chang and Seifert and gave freshman Justin To and senior Andy Wang some playing time. They capitalized on their chance as To and Wang won both of their matches in two sets along with Frank, Garforth-Bles, Nuesslein and Saravia, to lead the Owls to an easy 6-0 win to cap off a tremendous Sunday, even though the weather outside was frightful.
With the perfect weekend, the Owls are now 5-3 overall and are currently boasting a three-game winning streak. Assistant Coach Efe Ustundag knows that the team can keep up this winning streak if it continues working on its conditioning and stays healthy, which Ustundag acknowledged is a big "if."
"If we stick to our plan and our conditioning and stay healthy, all of these wins are going to pile up against quality opponents," Ustundag said.
Nuesslein is hoping the confidence can continue over the next few weeks before the Owls reach the brutal part of their schedule, which includes Texas A&M University, Oklahoma University and Tulsa University, their archrival in Conference USA.
"Hopefully, we can compile the confidence we had in the next three to four weeks and carry them into the big matches," Nuesslein said. "We want to keep building on what we have started now to keep up the confidence when we play these quality opponents."
Before this weekend, doubles had been struggling in recent matches against major powers, but this weekend cured this malady as they took care of business against Miami. Ustundag mentioned that he was impressed with the doubles play and he feels like the team's success was based on both chemistry and practice during the week.
"The new teams have better chemistry and have shown an increase in intensity," Ustundag said. "Both partners on each duo push each other, so I am hoping it was not just a one-time deal and we can build on this and have a legitimate shot at every doubles point moving forward."
This weekend, the Owls are hoping that the rain stays away as they have two matches this Saturday at Jake Hess Stadium against the University of Texas-San Antonio and Abilene Christian University. Ustundag sounded confident about the UTSA match, but at the same time he sounded cautious. He voiced his concerns that if Rice was not on its A-game, UTSA could come in and shock the feathers off of the Owls.
"UTSA is coming into this match thinking that if we play well and Rice doesn't, we can come here and win," Ustundag said.
Nuesslein agreed that UTSA should be taken seriously since Head Coach Ronnie Smarr and Ustundag have been telling the team to not look too far ahead and instead simply to focus on this week's opponents.
"We have always felt pretty good against UTSA, but I think they are better than years before," Nuesslein said. "Technically, UTSA is going to be a tougher match than we have expected in the past."
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