Feb. 28, 2014
Elizabeth Schmidt's No. 21 Rice women's tennis team will finally enjoy an extended set of matches on their home courts this weekend as they open a four-match homestand with a pair of contests against New Mexico State and Tulsa at Jake Hess Tennis Stadium.
The Owls and Aggies are set for 11 a.m. first serves on Saturday, while the latest installment in a long-running rivalry with the Golden Hurricane is scheduled for a noon start on Sunday, but could be moved up due to threatening weather forecast for later on Sunday afternoon.
The Owls (5-4) jumped three spots in the latest rankings to 21st, one shy of their best mark under Schmidt which they reached last season, on the strength of their efforts at the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic in Montgomery, Alabama last weekend. Despite dropping the doubles point each day, the Owls rallied to defeat #29 Oklahoma State (4-3) and #19 Auburn (4-2) before extending #14 Alabama to a match deciding third set tiebreaker which the Crimson Tide won to take a 4-3 decision.
Schmidt said that while last weekend gave the Owls great experience in coming back from an early deficit, the squad has focused this week on refining their doubles game to prevent them from opening with a 1-0 deficit.
"We just need to play better doubles," Schmidt said. "We almost pulled off three wins in a row over top 30 teams without winning doubles and that has given us a lot of confidence in singles, but we still feel it's important to get off to a good start and get that first point going into singles. We've worked on doubles this week and will continue to work on it. We're getting close to putting it all together. There's no need to panic but at the same time we know it's something we need to improve"
Tulsa comes into the weekend having jumped to No. 17 in the polls, the highest ranking in school history. The two schools decided the C-USA Championship last year and have annually provided fans with some classic battles with their in-season meetings. Schmidt expects nothing less this weekend.
"We have a ton of respect for Tulsa. They are a really good team that is well coached and we've had a lot of fun playing exciting and competitive matches with them over the years. It's sad to see them leave Conference USA, but glad we have the opportunity to compete with them for the championship this year and I expect that we will continue to play each other in the future when we are not in the same conference."
But before Tulsa, the Owls first host New Mexico State and Schmidt said while she understands the fans focus may already be on Sunday, the Owls can't afford such a luxury.
"On paper, it's a marquee matchup for our fans, but our focus has always been on the next opponent so right now we are focusing on New Mexico State. They are very solid and we do not want to overlook them on Saturday.
Natalie Beazant (72) and Katherine Ip (74) entered the national singles rankings after last weekend's action, while teammate Liat Zimmermann earned the C-USA Women's Tennis Athlete of the Week for her unbeaten weekend in singles. Beazant enters the weekend with a combined (spring and fall) singles record of 79-21 and needs one win to join Kimberly Anicete (88-35) and Dominique Harmath (82-40) in reaching 80 career wins.
This marks the first time in school history the Owls have had three women's players in the same lineup with 80 or more wins.
That shows the consistency in the way that we compete," Schmidt said. "To have three on the team with that number of wins is a great example of that. I think that across the country, our team is known as a tough out. We're going to fight until the very end and we will win ourselves to win a lot of matches, not just with our play, but with our will and our attitude. That is the kind of culture that we have tried to build here."