Jan. 17, 2014
The Rice women's tennis team opens its final season of competition at Jake Hess Tennis Stadium on Saturday looking to build upon the recent success that sees the Owls coming into 2014 and the 22nd ranked team in the country as well as defending Conference USA Champions.
The Owls will host Lamar at 1 p.m. on Saturday, the first of 11 home matches that will feature appearances by defending NCAA champion Stanford and preseason #8 Baylor in addition to longtime conference rival Tulsa, which opens its final year of C-USA play ranked 25th.
After the fall tournament season and the semester break, Rice head coach Elizabeth Schmidt said her team is ready to return to the courts.
"This is our teams' favorite part of the season. Going out there each time and representing Rice is something that is bigger than yourself and I think our team thrives in that environment. I know everyone is looking forward to Saturday and kicking off the season. It's going to be a great day," Schmidt said.
Schmidt knows that with the Owls coming off a conference title and holding a lofty early ranking, such recent success has made them a marked team.
"Our team has a healthy perspective on that (being ranked in the top 25). They understand the role and they are comfortable in the shoes we walk. They are dedicated and driven to continue to improve. They want to get better every day no matter what we have done in the past. The past is the past and now it's time to go out and compete hard. We're excited to play and represent Rice," Schmidt said.
Schmidt said the early match against Stanford will be a great early season test for the squad.
"We're really excited to have them coming here to play us. We were one of their early victims in their run to the NCAA title last year (Rice lost 4-0 in the Regional Final in Palo Alto). It should be a great match. Every match on our schedule this year is there to make us better. "
This season will be the final one for both the Rice men's and women's teams at Jake Hess Tennis Stadium as both programs will move into the George R. Brown Tennis Center next fall. Schmidt hopes the teams' success will inspire a large turnout for the final year at The Jake.
"There are a lot of great memories and a lot of firsts that have been accomplished at Jake Hess and it's important to appreciate that. It's important to appreciate what it's meant to the Rice tennis program. At the same time, what makes the experience of playing at home really special is the fans that come out to support the team. A lot of the comfort level our team feels when playing at home comes from playing in front of their friends and family. We hope to build upon the support we've seen the last several years," Schmidt noted.
The new ITA rules will see no-ad scoring in both singles and doubles and a third set 10-point tiebreaker, as well as doubles decided by six wins instead of eight and concluding the doubles matches once the point is clinched are all designed to speed up matches. The warm up period between singles and doubles has also been eliminated. All rule changes will be in place through the completion of the ITA Indoor Championships on February 10.
"The goal (behind the changes) is to make the sport more fan friendly, to make it easier to get on television and to create more excitement and exposure for the sport. It's designed to create more excitement and if you are tied 3-3 the match comes down to a 10-point tiebreak in the final match, I can foresee a lot of excitement at the end," she added.