Men's tennis seven-game streak snapped by A&M
Even though Rice University left Las Vegas last weekend, the Owls are still feeling lucky, as they narrowly escaped matches against Southern Methodist University and Texas Christian University with 4-3 wins apiece to keep their streak going at seven games. However, lady luck was not on their side Wednesday as they got swept in College Station, TX by Texas A&M University, 7-0. Texas A&M easily took a 1-0 lead in doubles and never let it up. In singles, senior Sam Garforth-Bles and senior Christian Saravia pushed their matches to three sets, bu it was no use. The Owls went back home overwhelmed. With the loss, Rice ended its season-high seven winning streak.
Assistant Coach Efe Ustundag said he knows the Owls dodged a few bullets with clutch performances at the end of the TCU and SMU matches. He knows that those matches could have gone either way and that Rice could be on a three-game winning streak right now, which would be very damaging to their NCAA tournament hopes. Even though the matches are kind of tight, Ustundag enjoys the battles especially when the Owls triumph.
"It is a really fun atmosphere battling with those boys," Ustundag said. "We could have lost both of those matches. Even though we had the higher ranking, it could have gone both ways, and outside of the performance of doubles against SMU, there was no reason to hang our head after those two matches."
After flirting with the possibility of falling out of the polls altogether just three weeks ago, the Owls are now ranked No. 39 and are in the top 40 for the first time since they fell flat on their face against the University of Texas at San Antonio in early February.
Garforth-Bles said he is really excited about what he has seen from the team in the past couple of weeks. The team is on a roll right no, and after some tough losses earlier in the season, he is glad to see that the Owls' hard work is finally paying off.
"I feel like we have gotten in some sort of groove and we are really playing well with a lot of confidence," Garforth-Bles said. "We are winning the big moments in the match compared to earlier in the season when they were not going in our favor. It is really nice to see after the hard work we have put in this semester."
Ustundag said he likes what he is watching from the sidelines but knows Rice has to stay on its toes. With the final stretch of the season approaching, Ustundag said he knows the consistency has to continue for the Owls to have any success.
"We cannot rise and fall with the quality of the opponent," Ustundag said. "We have to continue what we have been doing the last seven matches. Our level of intensity has been very consistent. We have got to continue to do that."
In terms of the NCAA tournament, what looked two weeks ago like a potential end to nine consecutive tournament berths has now changed to a more positive feel as the Owls keep stacking up wins, trying to impress the NCAA tournament committee. Ustundag knows these next few games at home are crucial, and he showed much more optimism than he did earlier in the season about Rice's chances.
"At this point, the days are a little bit brighter," Ustundag said. "There is a light at the end of the tunnel as opposed to three weeks ago. With four matches left, we have two against the Top 25, and two are unranked; so it is all over the place in terms of quality of opponent."
After their five-game road trip in Las Vegas and around Texas, the Owls are back in their own beds as they return to Jake Hess Stadium today to face Texas A&M at Corpus Christi and host No. 13 Oklahoma University on Sunday. After that, the Owls finish the regular season with matches against conference rival the University o f Tulsa and the University of Texas-Arlington. The Hurricane are again ranked in the top 30 and will present the Owls with many challenges.
Garforth-Bles said he feels the team chemistry is at an all-time high right now and that the Owls can push Oklahoma to the limit and keep the momentum going.
"We are pretty confident at the moment," Garforth-Bles said. "We are just being really supportive of each other, and we are pretty focused and determined. There is a sense that we can really do some damage against Oklahoma."
As usual, the coach is much more wary than the player. Ustundag said he knows Oklahoma is the bigger and more talented opponent, but that the Islanders cannot be overlooked. Even though the Owls are playing well, Ustundag said they cannot get too cocky and also said they have to stay on their feet and keep focusing one opponent at a time.
"We cannot overexaggerate our situation or take for granted that we are confident and playing well," Ustundag said. "We cannot overestimate ourselves. Sometimes you underestimate an opponent, but sometimes you overestimate your own abilities. We have to stay humble, expect the other outcome as well."
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