Men's Tennis still lives on tournament bubble
The countdown to the NCAA tournament is on, and the Owls know that they do not have much room for error. Rice left the court this weekend with mixed results as they easily defeated Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi 6-1 on Friday afternoon but fumbled a momentous chance to boost their NCAA tournament chances as they fell to the University of Oklahoma 6-1 early Sunday afternoon.
The Owls are now 16-7 on the season and are currently ranked 44. After playing five matches in the past 10 days, the Owls are fatigued, and the players are looking forward to some rest. Senior Michael Nuesslein said that rest is important at this juncture of the season, but repetition and practice are still needed to stay in tip-top shape.
"It is important to get rest," Nuesslein said. "You still need to get out to the courts, but it is more about keeping the rhythm and focusing on the little things."
Assistant Coach Efe Ustundag is glad that his team finally has some time to relax and get some real practice in. He knows that at this point in the season, he does not need to push the guys to the limit since they need rest.
"We are not going to kill them over the next three days, but we are going to fine-tune some things," Ustundag said.
Rice hosts its final two matches this season at Jake Hess Stadium playing its Conference USA archrival, the University of Tulsa on Friday afternoon and the University of Texas-Arlington on Sunday. The Owls have not won a match against Tulsa since their dramatic comeback in the 2010 C-USA final to secure an NCAA tournament berth.
Going into the final two weeks of the season, the Owls are in the same position they were in last year. Rice is comfortably on the bubble right now, which means it is not guaranteed an at-large bid, but its chances are looking very decent. Ustundag said that this could be the weekend they punch their ticket, as a win against Tulsa would probably be their most prolific and impressive so far. However, he said he was wary of looking too far ahead in regards to the conference tournament since it will not be a waltz to the final like it has been in past years.
"If we beat Tulsa, we can secure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament so it carries big importance in that sense," Ustundag said. "Also, it gives us an idea how it might be a week from now. Obviously, there still is a lot to be done between today and next Sunday."
Nuesslein said he knows that tensions are going to be high going into today's match. Throughout the past few years, things have gotten chippy on the court and Nuesslein sees the same thing happening in this year's match.
"From Tulsa, we know what we are going to expect because we have played them so often, and it is definitely going to be a battle," Nuesslein said.
With the regular season ending Sunday, this will be the last time that the seniors get to play at Jake Hess. It will be the final home match for Nuesslein, senior Sam Garforth-Bles, senior Christian Saravia and senior Andy Wang.
Ustundag said he hopes the seniors can be sent off in the right way but knows that the entire team has to show up to have a successful and satisfying weekend.
"It is just an opportunity to finish the last two matches on a high note for these seniors," Ustundag said. "These guys have been warriors for the past four years. It is important that the seniors and the team step up."
Nuesslein said that he could not believe that his college career is on the cusp of being over. He expressed mixed feelings - ready to start another part of his life, but knowing he will miss the long nights on the road with his teammates.
"I am not happy it is over, but it starts a new part of your life," Nuesslein said. "At the same time, you don't want it to be done."
With a smile, Nuesslein even jokingly added that he might show his softer sid. He mentioned that he did not want to cry like women's tennis player senior Ana Guzman did on Sunday, but that he has no guarantees.
"It sounds cheesy, but I am going to be emotional," Nuesslein said. "I don't think I will cry, though."
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