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Women’s tennis sweeps on Senior Day, men’s falls to SMU

Photo courtesy Rice Athletics

By Antoine Wiley     4/18/23 11:27pm

Both Rice tennis teams held their annual Senior Days this weekend. On Saturday, the men’s team took a 4-2 loss at home against Southern Methodist University, putting their season record at 12-9. The following day, the women’s team swept Prairie View A&M University, to move to 11-8.

Saturday got off to a strong start for the Owls, who took the first two doubles matches to win the doubles point. However, the singles matches didn’t go as well,  as SMU won five of the six matches. Freshman Kabeer Kapasi was the only Owl to win a singles match, which head coach Efe Ustundag said was a product of his resolve.

“When you only take one singles match, you’ve got to give some props to Kabeer,” Ustundag said. “It was a big mental battle … and I’m happy he was able to take the tie break and put a point up on the board.” 

Kapasi said he learned from a string of recent losses.

“I learned some tough lessons in my past few matches, where I had to lead and kind of lost it,” Kapasi said. “I think today it was kind of the same, but I managed to get it back, so I’m pretty happy.”

Kapasi also noted how the “super hot, super humid” weather negatively impacted him, but credited his team with helping him weather the subpar conditions.

Despite Saturday’s result, Ustundag said he is proud of how the Owls put up a fight.

“When you lose a match to a long-time rival, you’re never really satisfied with the match,” Ustundag said. “I’m definitely proud of the way the guys fought. That’s what we’ve been doing all year long: giving ourselves a chance, no matter who’s out there competing for us. I’m always proud of what we do out there.”

The Owls bounced back on Sunday, with Rice’s women’s tennis team winning 4-0 at home against Prairie View, putting their season record at 11-8. The Owls won all three doubles matches to take the doubles point, then swept the singles matches. According to fifth-year Diae El Jardi, the win was a complete team effort.

“We did pretty well today”, El Jardi said. “All of us – every single one of us; my teammates and coaches, everyone – just came out today and played really well and showed a lot of energy and effort… We won and it was a beautiful day.”

Head coach Elizabeth Schmidt said she was pleased with the results and how the team celebrated the final home matches of three seniors.

“I think it was a nice day celebrating our three players who are playing their final home matches here at Rice, so [I was] excited that we were able to get the team victory for Syd[ney Berlin], Diae [El Jardi] and for Maria [Budin],” Schmidt said. “[I’m] just grateful for everything they’ve done for our program.”

According to senior Maria Budin, the win was a perfect send-off for her and her fellow seniors.

“I think it was a solid performance from the whole team,” Budin said. “[It’s a] pretty emotional day, hard to quite believe it’s been four years … [It’s] really nice to be able to celebrate with all the seniors.”

Next up for both teams is the Conference USA tournament. The men’s team will play the University of Alabama at Birmingham at home on April 21 at noon. That same day at 10 a.m., the women’s team will play on the road against the winner of the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at El Paso. According to Schmidt, the team is looking forward to their last chance to make a run at the C-USA title.

“We’re looking forward to the conference tournament,” Schmidt said. “This is our last hurrah at Conference USA, so we’re looking to go out with a bang … Every match is going to be a tough battle, and our team’s up for it.”

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