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Men's Tennis falls to Memphis in semis of conference tournament

By Dan Elledge     5/22/12 7:00pm

The men's tennis season was not a smooth drive down Main Street for the Owls. Left and right, there were bumps and bruises, as the team enjoyed some success with a seven game winning streak in late March, but also experienced major heartbreak with the loss to the University of Texas at San Antonio at home in February. In the end, the bruises left too many scars on the Owls resume and they failed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in several years.

In the conference tournament, Rice knew that they had to probably reach the final and possibly beat Tulsa to guarantee themselves a bid to the NCAAs. In recent years, the Owls had breezed through the first round, but this year was more of a challenge.

The Owls played Southern Methodist University, whom they beat by the slimmest of margins, 4-3, in Dallas on March 30. Again, Rice needed every point they as they secured another 4-3 victory.

With the win, the Owls played against the University of Memphis in the semifinals, who in the opinion of Assistant Coach Efe Ustundag had a better season than Rice.

In their last matchup, the Owls beat the Tigers with a 5-2 victory at Jake Hess Stadium on March 16. This time, the Owls got cooked as the Tigers won 4-1, and just like that, the Owls' hopes of gaining a bid to the NCAA tournament were dashed.

Looking back on the season as a whole, Ustundag said that the season had its bright moments but that this was a bad way to end the legendary career of Head Coach Ronnie Smarr's, who is retiring.

"I would not put it necessarily as a complete failure, but to the standards we have set up here, it was a failure," Ustundag said. "It was a disappointing season. Obviously, the last thing we wanted was to end Coach Smarr's last season not qualifying for the NCAA tournament."

Unlike his coach, Sam Garforth-Bles (Martel '12) felt that the even without making the NCAA tournament, the season could not be classified as a failure.

"I definitely do not think you could say our season was a failure," Garforth-Bles said. "Obviously, it was not our best season. Given what we went through this year, we won the matches we were supposed to and we had the bad loss against UTSA."

Looking back at the best moments of the season, Michael Nuesslein (Sid Rich '12) said that with the sweep of Memphis, Iowa University and Tulane University, Rice started its best stretch of the season.

"My favorite moment was a weekend when we beat Memphis, Iowa and Tulane," Nuesslein said. "That weekend showed how good we could play and it made a big difference throughout the second half of the season."

For next year, Ustundag is excited at the new recruits that are coming in, but at the same time is sad that Nuesslein, Garforth-Bles, Christian Saravia (Martel '12) and Andy Wang (McMurtry '12) are leaving. He hopes that missing the NCAA tournament this season was just a minor failure.

"Things are all going in the right direction for the program, but I do wish we did not have this little bump in the road," Ustundag said. "Things happen and we have to take this and move forward with it."

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