Men's Tennis drops home match to USD
Another chance to score a great non-conference victory fell to the wayside this weekend as the Owls lost to another highly ranked opponent, the University of San Diego, on Saturday. The match had to be moved indoors because of the rain, but the Galleria Tennis and Athletic Center proved to be unfriendly to Rice as it dropped the match 5-1. Senior Michael Nuesslein was the only bright spot for Rice, as he racked up a two-set win to increase his singles record to 10-1 for the season, which ties his season-high as an Owl. Rice is now 8-5 and ranked No. 64 in the nation, its lowest ranking of the season.
With their NCAA tournament hopes on thin ice, the Owls turn their attention toward conference play, which gears up this weekend at the 54th-annual Rice Invitational. Assistant Coach Efe Ustundag spoke clearly when he said the team needs to get back on track. According to Ustundag, if the Owls lose a few more critical matches, it might cost them a chance at the NCAA tournament.
"We can help our cause by winning quite a few of the matches," Ustundag said. "I think the room for error is very small. We can no longer take any more upsets: no more losses from teams that I think are as good as we are. We have got to take care of those matches."
Senior Sam Garforth-Bles knows that these conference matches are critical, as the Owls can still make a run in Conference USA and take the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. He thinks the Rice Invitational is coming at a good time, as the Owls have previously been successful in this tournament.
"It's important," Garforth-Bles said. "Conference is our main goal before the national tournament, so we are always keeping that in the back of our minds during the season. Since I've been at Rice, we have done well at our invitational."
The Owls start off the three-day tournament today with a match against No. 34 University of Memphis, which has had one of its best seasons in years. Ustundag sees the Tigers as coming in with something to prove since the Owls have dominated them in the past. Last season, Rice took care of the Tigers 5-2, but Memphis wants to turn the tables on the Owls this time around.
"Memphis is a team that is coming in with a chip on their shoulder," Ustundag said. "This is the first time in a very long time they have been ranked higher than us, and they want to win this tournament."
The Owls also are playing No. 63 ranked Tulane University on Sunday. Rice was challenged last season by the Green Wave but eventually prevailed 4-2 in a match in New Orleans. Garforth-Bles mentioned that most of Tulane's starting lineup returned from last year's squad, and he knows this match will go down to the wire, as the Green Wave are a scrappy bunch.
"Tulane will be a battle as well, as none of these matches will be easy by any means," Garforth-Bles said. "It should be a pretty good weekend, but we will definitely have to fight and play well."
Between those two matches, the Owls play Iowa University on Saturday. The Hawkeyes have been struggling all season, as they have only racked up one win in nine matches. Ustundag would like to add another Rice Invitational title to his repertoire since he sees this tournament as a chance to boost the Owls into the second half of the season.
"Tough teams, great tournament," Ustundag said. "It is certainly going to be a very strong tournament this year. It would be great if we were able to win another trophy."
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Rice volleyball will get another shot at No. 2 University of Texas, Austin after they swept the University of San Diego on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Owls took all three sets against the Toreros by at least five points, en route to the second victory in an NCAA tournament game in program history. After the game, head coach Genny Volpe said she was confident from the get-go.
Most of the way through the 2019 season, I thought that Rice had some of the worst luck in all of college football. Through nine games, the Owls were winless, despite four one-score losses, including an eight-point loss to a Baylor University team that ended the season ranked in the top 15. All signs indicated that the Owls were much better than their 0-9 record and that their bad luck in close games was long overdue to flip. The Owls ended that season with a three-game winning streak, including two one-possession wins, appeared to confirm that theory.
On Saturday, Rice football came back from a ten point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat Louisiana Tech University 35-31 on Senior Day. The come-from-behind win snapped a four-game losing streak and tallied the Owls fourth win of the season, moving their record to 4-8 and 3-5 in Conference-USA.