Top-ranked UCLA stops Rice’s run for the championship
The Rice women’s tennis team earned its first berth in the NCAA Women’s Tennis Sweet 16 with a performance to remember May 12, when the Owls routed 16th-ranked University of Mississippi in a pair of crucial third sets to shock Ole Miss 4-2. But Rice’s run in the championship in Georgia was cut short Thursday when top-ranked UCLA deflected an early challenge by Rice and then rode a consistent effort throughout its talented lineup to down the Owls 4-0.
“It’s always disappointing to lose, but I am super proud of the team and the effort they have shown all year,” Rice head coach Elizabeth Schmidt said. “We left it all out on the court today and fought for every point, but in the end, UCLA showed why they are No. 1 in the country. We can hold our heads high because we gave it everything we had.”
Facing a lineup heavy with nationally ranked opponents, the Owls were decided underdogs in their first appearance in the Sweet 16. UCLA’s top two doubles teams are both ranked in the top 10, but in the early going, the Owls battled the Bruins evenly.
“I thought we really got off to good starts at 2 and 3 doubles,” Schmidt said. “We really could not have started off better at 3. We were up 2-0 and had our chances to go up 3-0. We were up early at 2, but that is the difference about teams at this level. They stick with their game. UCLA didn’t panic. The good news is that we were challenging them. Now we have to try and take that next step and be able to play the way they do on the big points.”
The Owls early surge on courts 2 and 3 was thwarted, but on Court 1, where Natalie Beazant and Domnique Harmath found themselves quickly down 4-0 to the Bruins’ sixth-ranked pair of Robin Anderson/Skylar Morton, the Owls 26th-ranked tandem staged a rally of their own, storming back to take a 7-6 lead. UCLA then clinched the doubles point with wins at 2 and 3, leaving the match on court 1 unfinished with UCLA up 8-7.
UCLA made sure that an early challenge would not be mounted in singles; they stormed to first-set wins on all six courts, including wins of 6-0 on both courts 1 and 2. They wrapped the day’s action up with a win at 6 and then closed out the matches on the first two courts to end Rice’s season at 18-9.
The loss to UCLA’s Anderson, a fellow freshman who is currently ranked fourth in the country, snapped Beazant’s 17-match winning streak, but it was only her second loss in 11 matches against ranked opponents. She will have a chance to add to her season record of 23-2 early next week when the NCAA singles completion begins in Athens. She and Harmath will also play in the NCAA doubles tournament next week.
With the 2012 season less than an hour behind her, Schmidt was already looking forward to the 2013 campaign and the return of five of the six players who took the court against the Bruins.
“This is a great team, a resilient team and we have a lot of great things to look forward to,” Schmidt said. “An experience like this is only going to help us get better. It was our first time here, but I think we handled it well. We didn’t have the deer-in-the-headlights look in our eyes. I don’t think we came out scared. We went for it, but UCLA just played better than us.
“This is the first time that Rice has been here, but it’s not going to be the last,” Schmidt said.