April 14, 2016
By Chuck Pool (email@example.com)
Facing a team with nothing to lose, the 26th ranked Rice men's tennis team dug itself out of multiple holes by winning four tiebreaking sets to turn back the challenge of Texas A&M Corpus Christi with a 4-0 win at the George R. Brown Tennis Center on Thursday night.
The Owls, 19-7, may have been caught looking ahead to Sunday's Senior Day showdown with No. 27 Tulane while the Islanders, who were smarting from a 4-0 loss at Lamar on Wednesday that ended their eight-year run as Southland Conference champion, threw caution to the wind from the first serves in doubles.
The Islanders stormed out to 4-1 leads on all three courts and took a 6-4 win on court two. But the Owls found their footing and forced tiebreakers on courts one and three, winning both by 8-6 scores with the matches ending less than a minute apart.
Tommy Bennett played against the day's script, storming to a 6-0, 6-0 singles win on court one to up the Owls' advantage to 2-0 and Adam Gustafsson fought through a tough first set to win on court two and push the lead to 3-0.
The Islanders seemed on the verge of cutting deeply into that lead by taking strong leads on courts four and five, but Emanuel Llamas and David Warren steadied themselves in their second sets and emerged with tiebreak wins to force third sets and keep the Islanders off the scoreboard.
Junior Henrik Munch delivered the clinching point, picking up a three-set win on court six.
Rice head coach Efe Ustundag was glad to see the display of heart by his team, but he would like to see them avoid needing such an effort on a regular basis.
"It's nice to know that we can play some clutch tennis and we can make a comeback, but at the same time it's not a good approach," Ustundag said "It shows lack of focus and maybe a lack of respect for the opponent to come out so flat and unfocused. To be down 4-1 on all three doubles courts and then having to dig deep and spend all the extra energy is not what we want. Yes we came back and won the doubles but the way we played, we did not deserve to win doubles. "
Ustundag had cautioned his team that the Islanders were a dangerous matchup.
"Corpus came in here with nothing to lose," he said. "They went to Lamar last night and lost their conference championship for the first time in eight years. So they came in here swinging for the fences because they had nothing to lose. We knew that was going to be the case, but we still came out and almost gave them the doubles point. We just did not have it."
The Owls have one regular season match remaining, a Sunday matchup with Tulane and the nation's top ranked singles player in Dominik Koepfer and then they will host the Conference USA Championship next weekend at home. The win on Thursday, while not an artistic success, did allow the Owls to post their most wins in a season since 2006.
"It was ugly, it wasn't a pretty dual match by any means, but it is good that we can win ugly," Ustundag said. "It gives you a reference point for the next time you are down in a match. They know they have it in them to fight through it. But I would much rather see a team who approached every match the way they did against SMU, Texas or Texas Tech."
Ustundag hopes that approach returns on Sunday when the Green Wave come to town.
"Now we have Tulane coming in on Sunday who is showcasing the No. 1 player in the country," he said. "There is very little room for error and if we show up against a team like that the way we did today, then we don't win doubles and will have a very steep hill to climb against a team lead by the top singles player in the country."