Road Challenges Await Owls

Tommy Bennett is 3-1 in dual matches this year

Jan. 31, 2014

Every road trip in the college tennis season is an occasion for a team to have to adjust to changing circumstance and for the Rice men's tennis team, their weekend journey to Lubbock to face a pair of ranked opponents is already living up to that credo.

Rice opens weekend action on Saturday, facing 10th ranked Mississippi State at noon. The Bulldogs needed a third set win on court 2 to outlast host Texas Tech 4-3 on Friday afternoon. Rice and MSU will wrap up the weekend with a Sunday match that has been indoors and up to 9 a.m. because of deteriorating weather forecasts.

"We're here to play matches, so we are happy to play wherever they are," Rice head coach Efe Ustundag said. "I like the way our team has worked this week. Even with a pair of wins, they were not happy with the way they played last week and they have a mindset that they can't wait to get back on the court."

The weekend setting is a familiar one for Ustundag and assistant coach Bojan Szumanski. Ustundag began his coaching career at Tech, while Szumanski left Lubbock as the Red Raiders career leader in wins. Both are well aware of the home court advantage the Red Raiders can enjoy.

"Obviously, there is a little nostalgia about Lubbock," Ustundag said. "It's hard to escape when you come to the facility and there is a huge photo of Bojan on a windscreen. Their head coach (Tim Siegel) is my mentor and gave me my start in coaching. This is a great place to play and this can be one of the toughest places to play, especially when they are outdoors," he added.

That home court advantage played out on Friday as Tech extended Mississippi State to the end. The Bulldogs will be looking to bounce back on Saturday against the Owls, who lost to MSU 6-1 last year at home.

"Although we played each other last year, these are two vastly different teams than the ones who met at Jake Hess," Ustundag said. "We both have replaced at least half our lineup so there will be a lot of interesting matchups."



Aside from the nostalgia angle, Sunday's early indoor start against Tech also allows the Owls to improve upon one of the better efforts of 2013 when fell just short in presenting Ustundag a win over a top 30 team and his coaching mentor in his debut as Rice head coach. Despite dropping the doubles point, the Owls extended Tech to the final match before the Red Raiders captured the final point in a 4-3 win.

"I think it's always easier to accept changes in venue when you are on the road because the home team always is taken out of its comfort zone," Ustundag said. "I know our guys are ready to play anywhere. That was a very tough match to lose last year and our guys remember how close we were to getting the win," he added.



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