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Men's tennis sets sights on bid for NCAA Tournament

By Dan Elledge     3/21/13 7:00pm

The Owls men's tennis team knew it was do or die heading into the 55th Rice Invitational, and they answered with three wins against Radford University, Oregon University and Texas A&M University, all ranked opponents. The wins vaulted Rice University to the .500 mark for the first time since it was 2-2 at the beginning of the season and put the Owls back in the conversation for a possible at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. 

Head Coach Efe Ustundag said the Owls played the best they have this entire season in this past weekend. Ustundag said a change in the team's mentality played a major factor in its improved performance.

"It looked like we were fearless, - comfortable with our games - and we went with our shots a little bit more," Ustundag said. "A little bit of attitude change can make a difference."

With the home stretch coming up, the view toward the NCAA tournament is looking brighter. Senior Jonathan Chang said these past three wins were critical but that he still thinks a win or two on the road trip will help seal the deal.

"It is hard to say at this point, and I feel it will be really tough down the stretch," Chang said. "We need to play better than we did at the Rice Invitational to beat one of these teams on the road, but I think landing one of these wins could help us land a bid."

Ustundag said each and every win last weekend was vital but that Rice still needs a few more resume-building wins if the Owls want to make it to the tournament.

"A road win in the next three matches would help immensely," Ustundag said. "If we can't get a win, we need to sweep the rest of our schedule. If we are going to have any chance, we need to finish the year above .500."

The Owls drive up to Austin to face the University of Texas in the first of those three road games tomorrow. Last year, Texas showed up in Houston and took care of the Owls in comfortable fashion, 5-2. Ustundag said he hopes things can change this year but that he is concerned about multiple facets of the Longhorns' game. 

"We have to play well, almost as hard as we are going to fight to have a shot," Ustundag said. "Playing hard against a good team is not always enough to get that victory. Depth is a concern, and the quality of their [Texas'] doubles is an issue as well."

However, Chang said the Owls will not be scared and that he is excited to play in this intense, tournament-like atmosphere.

"One of the more fun facts about this match is that it is at night, which will add to the atmosphere," Chang said. "We will come out pretty fired up. We play Texas every year; they are always a good team. We have to play our game because they will be a challenge."

Ustundag said the Longhorns will be ready but that Rice will not be intimidated and will be ready to fight.

"We can ride this confidence wave. We have a lot to gain, but it is going to take good tennis," Ustundag said.

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