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Women’s tennis prepares for C-USA showdown

By Madison Buzzard     4/2/19 11:40pm

Women’s tennis will look to build on its 9-2 home record in two matches against Florida-based opponents at George R. Brown Tennis Center this weekend. Rice will battle the University of South Florida on Friday afternoon and then challenge Conference USA rival Florida International University on Sunday morning. 

Rice has yet to face a C-USA team this season. Overall, the Owls are 10-7 in dual matches, but six of those seven  losses came against opponents nationally ranked in the top 50. Most recently, Rice fell to No. 49 Princeton University 5-2 before it defeated The College of William & Mary 6-1.

Freshman Anastasia Smirnova said playing against No. 9 University of Texas, Austin, No. 12 Kansas University and No. 18 Louisiana State University gave her a measuring stick for success.

“If we don’t compete against the best teams, we can’t really know at which level we are,” Smirnova, a McMurtry College freshman, said.

Two weeks ago, Smirnova was honored as the C-USA Player of the Week after winning four consecutive singles matches. According to Rice head coach Elizabeth Schmidt, inexperience can be a gift.

“I think our team has done a good job after every match of going back and seeing what we’ve done well, and what areas we can improve in,” Schmidt said. “As a young team, they are always open to getting feedback and getting better as individuals and as a group ... Not just looking at the results, but looking at our discipline, every day, I have seen a ton of growth in this team over the season. I think everything is coming together at a good time.”

In partner play, Rice has shone, winning the doubles point in 13 of 17 matches. Schmidt said her team has focused on building its camaraderie — playing card games in hotel lobbies during trips — and punishing opponents at the net.

“We have improved a ton [in doubles],” Schmidt said. “It’s something we have worked on in the fall and the spring and it’s something that has been a solid point for us. We have been training on that and being open to being more aggressive. It’s something that can be even stronger.”

The duo of Smirnova and junior Priya Niezgoda has a doubles record of 16-5 this season. But Smirnova said Rice needs its students to come out this weekend to build the intensity.

“[Students] don’t realize how important it is to have people cheer for you,” Smirnova said. “As a university, we need to have this mindset of, here we have basketball playing, we have tennis playing, we have football playing, [so] we will go and support them. Students at Rice can do better ... When you have people cheer for you, not only your teammates but also your classmates, professors and your friends coming and cheering for you, it definitely helps your mental game.”

When the Owls host the C-USA Championships in three weeks, support could help Rice lift the trophy for the fifth time in six years, according to freshman Victoria Smirnova.

“Fans can help us with their energy to bring the title back home,” Victoria Smirnova said.

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