May 8, 2014
The 20th ranked Rice women's tennis team will look to write history while head coach Elizabeth Schmidt will face off against one of her former players when the Owls take on the University of Denver in the opening match of the Waco Regional in the 2014 NCAA Women's Tennis Championships on Friday. First serve is set for 4 p.m. at the Hurd Tennis Center on the campus of Baylor University.
The winner of the Rice-Denver opener will face the winner of Baylor and Texas A&M Corpus Christi at 5 p.m. on Saturday to earn a berth in the Sweet 16 in Athens, Georgia.
The Owls (17-6) are appearing in their third consecutive NCAA Championship, their second as Conference USA Champions, and will be looking to become the first Rice tennis team to win its opening round match in three consecutive appearances. The Rice women downed Illinois in 2012 and Pepperdine last year in opening round matches, while the Rice men won first-round matches in in 2003 and 2004.
The Pioneers (14-8) earned their first appearance in the NCAA Championship by winning the Summit League title under head coach Christian Thompson, who was coached by Schmidt during her senior year at Notre Dame in 2007.
"Christian played for me at Notre Dame and she was a great player who has become a great coach," Schmidt said. "Personally it will be a great moment for me to compete against her team. She's done a great job with her program and she's a quality person. Knowing her, she'll have her team ready to go and they are going to compete hard and play aggressively."
The Owls will be returning to competition for the first time since capturing the C-USA title on April 20, but Schmidt said she was pleased by the level of intensity in their final practices at Jake Hess Tennis Stadium before leaving for Waco on Thursday morning.
"We've really had a couple of great days of practice and you could see that their focus has fully returned to tennis," Schmidt said. "The last week of classes at Rice is almost tougher than finals, so they had that waiting for them right when we came back from conference. Once you learn the ropes you have a better handle on what to expect but I think both of our freshmen did an awesome job in handling everything in the classroom and then being able to come out and have good focus on tennis when they were here for practice."
Schmidt noted that the experience of the last two NCAA Championships prepared her team for the lag time between competitions.
"At this point in the season when we have played so much it was kind of odd to go to a long stretch of just practicing. Fortunately, we had a chance to get used to this schedule the last two years. But our team loves to complete and loves to represent Rice so I know they are very excited to get back on the competition court on Friday."
The Owls are no strangers to the Hurd Tennis Center as well as Baylor's indoor facilities having played there earlier this season, but Schmidt said familiar surroundings would not be a factor.
"To be honest this team is very adaptable and goes with the flow and don't let a lot of things phase them, whether it is playing on different courts or having to move indoors," Schmidt said. "That's one of their trademarks and that's what makes this team as good as they are. No matter where we go, we show up, the court's the same size, and they just go out and play. That really helps us that we've had a lot of opportunities to have to adjust and that helps prepare us to play in the NCAA."