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Men's Tennis falls to Tulsa, eyes rematch at conference tournament

By Dan Elledge     4/19/12 7:00pm

As the regular season came to a close, the Owls knew they still had unfinished business with the University of the Tulsa after a loss to them at home over the weekend. Seniors Sam Garforth-Bles and Christian Saravia pushed their singles opponents to the limit but could not eke out wins and Rice lost last Friday, 6-1.

Senior day was held on Sunday against The University of Texas-Arlington as seniors Garforth-Bles, Saravia, Michael Nuesslein and Andy Wang were honored. Due to the terrible weather conditions, the singles matches were played first.

With Garforth-Bles out sick and junior Peter Frank out with a minor injury, the Owls corps was thin and they had to go with Wang and freshman Leif Berger. On the final match of his career at Jake Hess Tennis Stadium, Wang stepped up in the clutch to win in three sets and give Rice the 4-2 win.

With his last match played at home, Nuesslein said that he enjoyed the day and the ceremony, but that he is sad that this will be the last time he plays at Jake Hess.

"I enjoyed the day and I was surprised at how much I was not emotional," Nuesslein said. "It is over, but on the other side you move on so there are mixed feelings."

Garforth-Bles said it was an amazing day for him and he said he has so many great memories from the past four years.

"It was pretty moving," Garforth-Bles said. "Thinking about all of my four years playing matches there, it was special."

Assistant Coach Efe Ustundag said he was excited to see the seniors leave with a win and that he could not imagine it for a better group of guys as he knows they will do well in the years to come.

"It has been a really great four years to be in their company and to be able to coach them, not only to have a coach-student relationship but a nice friendship that will continue over the years to come," Ustundag said. "I think they have contributed a lot to this school and they came in very high as a recruiting class and they certainly played like it during their senior years. They are all going to be successful people moving forward."

Rice finished the regular season with a record of 17-8 and ranked No. 47 heading into the Conference-USA tournament in Orlando, Fla. Today, the Owls will face Southern Methodist University in the first round in a rematch of a thrilling 4-3 Rice win in Dallas on March 30.

Nuesslein said that the doubles point is crucial for the Owls. In the March 30 matchup, Rice fell in a 1-0 hole but was lucky enough to rally the troops and survive. Nuesslein said that the Owls need to be ready and take an early advantage in the match or else they could go home early.

"What made the SMU match closer last time was the doubles," Nuesslein said. "We got beaten in doubles, which was surprising to me. They were focused and that is something we need to change as we need to be ready. If we take care of the doubles point, we should be able to beat them like we did in Dallas."

This year, C-USA is the strongest that it has been in years. With four teams ranked in the Top 75, (Tulsa, Memphis University, Rice and the University of Alabama-Birmingham), the tournament will be no cake walk for Rice and Tulsa, who have met in the final the past six years.

Ustundag is happy to see that C-USA is getting stronger, but at the same time he hopes the Owls get back to the final and get a chance at revenge against Tulsa for last week's defeat.

"Usually, it is a three-team race between SMU, Tulsa and us, but this year you have Memphis stepping up into the rankings," Ustundag said. "Tulane is having a good year and it is fun to see. Hopefully, we will continue to get to the final like we have in the past six years and hopefully this time we can win and take back the crown we won in 2010."

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