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Diagnosing NCAA play with women’s tennis head coach Elizabeth Schmidt

Courtesy Olivia Daneker

By Madison Buzzard     4/27/19 1:20pm

After earning victory in the Conference USA Championship final for the sixth time in seven years, the Rice Owls women’s tennis team is set to compete in both team and individual postseason play at the NCAA Championship.

Although seeding for the team tournament and the individual singles and doubles tournaments has not yet been introduced, Rice has already garnered an automatic berth into team play from the C-USA Championship win, according to head coach Elizabeth Schmidt.

Schmidt has been appointed as a member of the NCAA Championship team selection committee by her colleagues, and will travel to Indianapolis, Indiana this week to determine which teams deserve an at-large entry into the 64-team tournament.

“The country is split into regions,” Schmidt said. “Each region has a representative on the committee. The [C-USA] liaison called me this week and asked if I was interested in representing our region, because C-USA holds the seat in the [South] region this year.”

According to Schmidt, data-driven comparisons of tournament-eligible teams fuel the selection process. Schmidt said that the committee looks at four factors, including point differentials, head-to-head competition, common opponents and wins versus top 50 Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranked opponents. 

Schmidt said the Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranking is the deciding factor if two teams are equivalent according to the committee’s metrics.

Last season, after Rice lost to Florida International University in the C-USA final, the Owls were still able to garner entry into the postseason because of their number 40 ITA ranking, according to Schmidt.

Schmidt also said once seeding for team play is determined, the committee will bracket singles and doubles play.

“The highest ranked [singles and doubles] teams from each conference receive automatic entry into the tournament. But actually, if you have several players in a conference who are ranked all around each other, [the committee] goes through that same process.”

According to Schmidt, Rice could battle one of the nine ranked opponents it faced this year in the NCAA Championship.

“The rule is you cannot go to the same region as a conference opponent,” Schmidt said. “We would not play anybody from our conference in the first two rounds. But last year, we played Texas A&M in the first round, and we played them in the regular season.”

Championship-qualified teams which are located with 400 miles of a tournament host site will receive a hometown advantage, so long as a higher seeded team does not lie in the same region, according to Schmidt.

Schmidt said due to recent structural changes in postseason play, reaching the final is more difficult than ever before.

“NCAA’s is a week earlier than it has been in the past. Usually we have three weeks from the conference tournament to the NCAA tournament, now we have two weeks. The reason is because [the committee] has added a Super Regional, which is kind of like [in] baseball. So you’ll have the first two rounds and then the Regional. [Also], the round of 16 match is [now] at a campus site. The reason for this is to draw more excitement and fan support.”

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