May 16, 2012
The improbable run by the Rice women's tennis team from a preseason ranking of #71 to a place in the NCAA Sweet 16 enters its next phase when the upstart Owls take on top-ranked UCLA in the opening match of the 2012 NCAA Women's Tennis Championship in Athens, Georgia.
First serve is set for 8 a.m. central. All matches will be webcast by NCAASports.com..
The Owls (18-8) and Bruins (23-2) will be one of the first two matches that will open play at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. The teams will hold center stage, playing on the stadium courts at the complex due to UCLA's position at the top seed in the field.
The Owls will take the court for the first time in the Sweet 16 on the strength of two hard-fought wins over top 20 opponents last weekend in the Oxford Regional. Rice head coach Elizabeth Schmidt said the wins over #18 Illinois and #16 Ole Miss not only vaulted them into the match against UCLA, they have prepared the Owls for the challenge of facing the nation's top team.
"It's definitely a big moment for the program, but we're ready. That first round win (over Illinois) definitely gave us the confidence to take on Ole Miss. That confidence was solidified with the win over Ole Miss and this team now has shown themselves what they are truly capable of."
The irony of the advancement is that Schmidt will be facing her former head coach (Stella Sampras Webster) who inspired her to pursue a career in coaching and the school for whom she earned All America honors in doubles. It's not the first time she's taken Rice on to the court to face UCLA, having dropped a 7-0 decision on the road in 2010. However, that was a dual match in early February, this one takes place at a time of year when Rice women's tennis teams have traditionally moved on to their summer plans.
Schmidt see's nothing in the way her team has prepared in the short time between the dizzying success in Mississippi and the match on Thursday morning.
"Obviously it has been nice to be making history, but really our focus has always been on each day. We have stressed that to them and they have maintained that focus all season. UCLA is our next opponent and another team that is ranked ahead of us. They are obviously a great team, but I think we are up to the challenge. We've got our game plan ready and we're excited to get out there and play," Schmidt stated.