Women's tennis stays hot: No. 1 in C-USA
After 12 straight wins, a No. 20 national ranking and a record of 17-4, the Rice University women's tennis team closed out one of its best regular seasons in history. To make the ending even sweeter, a senior, captain Katie Gater earned the winning point in last Saturday's Senior Day match against the University of Utah to give the Owls a 4-3 victory.
Gater said she has enjoyed the second half of the season and is proud to be on a strong team.
"Ending the regular season on a 12-match winning streak is unbelievable," Gater said. "I am so proud to be a part of this team [that] has been rewriting history for Rice women's tennis this year and last year."
Gater, who plays No. 4 singles and No. 2 doubles with sophomore Liat Zimmerman, won both of her matches against Utah. Her 8-4 doubles win
gave Rice the overall doubles point, and her 6-4, 6-1 singles victory against Utah's Natasha Smith secured the Rice win.
Head Coach Elizabeth Schmidt said Gater's performance was a great culmination to her years of contribution to the team.
"It was really fitting to have Gater clinch the match on Senior Day," Schmidt said. "She has been clutch for us a lot over the past two years, so it was nice to have her be able to win that final point on Saturday."
The match also proved to be a big day for No. 1 singles sophomore Natalie Beazant, who has led Rice with 14 straight singles wins. The
No. 41 ranked singles player defeated No. 85 Tereza Bekerova in straight sets and was also able to bounce back after No. 24 pair Beazant and junior Dominique Harmath lost their previous match. The doubles team won 8-4 against its 32nd-ranked opponents.
Junior Kimberly Anicete won at No. 5 singles (6-4, 6-1) to set Gater up to win the team match. With the victory already secured, Schmidt had freshman Solomiya Zinko retire her match in order to rest a hurting wrist. According to Gater, many of Rice's matches had slow starts on Saturday, but the team was able to fight back to secure the victory.
"I'm proud of our team for really digging in and fighting back from a bit of a rough start in singles," Gater said. "I think that we are a scrappy, hardworking team, so even if we are down early in the match, no one gives up."
Rice earns No. 1 seed for C-USA tournament
After losing only one conference match and sitting at the highest ranking in the conference, Rice was able to earn the No. 1 seed for the Conference USA tournament. This is the first time Rice has earned the first seed since joining C-USA in 2005. While the Owls earned the No. 2 seed out of 12 conference members last year, they came in second place in the tournament, losing to the University of Tulsa in the finals. The last conference victory for Rice was in 2006 when they entered the tournament as the seventh seed. Riding a 12-game winning streak, the team is in position to repeat the championship performance of 2006. According to Gater, with the way the team has been rolling the past two months, it is definitely in the mix to bring the conference title back to Rice.
"We have all been playing well as a team across the board, and I think if we continue to show the fight we have been showing all season we definitely have a great chance of becoming conference [champions]," Gater said.
The greatest challenge for Rice is currently No. 26 Tulsa (No. 2 seed in tournament), who beat the Owls 5-2 at the beginning of the season. To face Tulsa, the team will have to maintain the consistency that they have established going into the postseason.
Schmidt said the tournament will not be easy as the ladies are ready for the challenge
"C-USA has a lot of good teams," Schmidt said. "It's going to be a really great tournament and we are looking forward to the challenge."
The four-day tournament began Thursday, April 18 at the University of Houston. Rice earned a first-round bye and plays its first match Friday. against the winner of the University of Alabama,
Birmingham and Old Dominion University match.