Eric Rutledge picked up a pair of wins in both singles and doubles to lead the youthful Rice men's tennis team to a split of a season-opening dual doubleheader at the George R. Brown Tennis Center on Sunday. The Owls dropped a 4-3 decision to UTRGV before bouncing back to down Prairie View 6-1.
"Obviously, we would have preferred to come out on top in both matches, and we had our opportunities against UTRGV, but I think our young lineup learned valuable lesson today," Rice head coach Efe Ustundag said. "They are going to meet a lot of seasoned players each week who are going to fight for every point. Given that we had five of six players in the lineup who were looking for the first college dual wins, we might have had a case of nerves, but we will have to learn from this and move past it."
The Owls took the early lead against UTRGV by grabbing the doubles point and never trailed until the Vacqueros clinched with a win in the final match.
"UTRGV deserves a lot of credit because they never stopped battling when looked like we were taking control. They never went away and that is an important thing for our team to see," Ustundag said.
The Owls again jumped out to the early lead in the nightcap, taking the doubles point against Prairie View, then carried that momentum over to singles as Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, Rutledge and Conrad Russell raced to quick wins to clinch the match.
The Owls will be back in action on January 21 when they host Louisiana-Lafayette at 11 a.m. as part of the annual Double Trouble match day with the Rice women, who will host Baylor.