cheap personalized jerseys Baylor tennis faces unfamiliar road in Athens for NCAA tournament
It’s not often that a Baylor tennis team starts the NCAA Championships away from Waco. This year it’s an even rarer occasion, as both teams are on the road.
When the Bears kick off tournament play this weekend in Athens, Ga., it’ll be just the third time in 14 years for the men and second time in 11 years for the women that they’ve played their first and second round matches away from the Hurd Tennis Center. Not surprisingly, both teams have found plenty of success in the early rounds the men have only lost once in the first round, while the women have reached the round of 16 in 10 of the last 11 years.
“I think you bring the team together,” Baylor men’s head coach Matt Knoll said. “You don’t have girlfriends and friends pulling you around, asking you to do stuff. You can really focus on the tennis. So we’ll focus on the tennis, and I know we’ll play well.”
The 40th ranked women (17 14) are first up with a first round match against No. 26 Wake Forest at noon Friday. The No. 35 men (15 13) face No. Both matches are at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex at the University of Georgia.
Baylor has fared well in tournament play on both the men’s and women’s sides. The Bears are 52 17 all time in NCAA men’s play, including a national title in 2004. The women are 32 18 overall, with Final Four appearances in 2008 and 2011.
The postseason numbers are encouraging, especially for two Baylor teams coming off regular seasons with records just breaking .500 after scheduling some of the nation’s top programs. The men’s 13 losses are the most ever in a single season under Knoll, while the women’s 14 are second most under Scrivano.
“I think the NCAAs is sort of ‘program time,
‘ if you will,” Knoll said. “I think what you see are the programs that have been in those positions tend to rise to the occasion. It’s a little different, and I think our guys came here with the expectation we’re going to play in these matches, and we’re going play well, and I think we will.”
The confidence lies in the success both teams experienced down the stretch of the regular season. The men pushed into the Big 12 tournament semifinals in Stillwater, Okla. after upsetting No. 15 Oklahoma State on its home court, then pushed No. 8 Texas Tech to the limit in a 4 3 loss.
Knoll’s Bears went 4 5 in April, which included a 4 2 triumph over then No. 17 Texas. They still managed to go 29 22 in individual matches over that span, despite battling through a tough Big 12 schedule that included the Longhorns, Texas Tech (twice), Oklahoma, Oklahoma State (twice) and TCU.
“No question we’re playing our best tennis,” Knoll said. “I think we’ve gotten better and better as the year has worn on. I thought we played two really tough matches in Stillwater. I think we’ll play some tough matches down in Athens. I think we’ll continue to be better. I’m really excited.”
Awaiting the Bears is a Florida State team (18 8) that finished in a tie for third in the ACC. The Seminoles are led by 11th ranked singles player Benjamin Lock,
who sits one spot ahead of Baylor’s Julian Lenz in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Rankings.
“It’s going to be a tough match,” Knoll said. “They’ve had a heck of a season and they’re going to match up pretty well with us up and down. Everybody is going to have to be ready to play, and I know the guys are looking forward to it.”
The Baylor women went on a late season tear, winning 12 of their last 14 with a five match win streak leading up to the Big 12 tournament. That included road wins over TCU and Texas, two teams with higher rankings.
Although a young group, they have three players that played on last year’s Elite Eight team in Kiah Generette, Blair Shankle and Theresa Van Zyl.
“I think we won some matches this year because our uniforms said ‘Baylor’ on it,” Scrivano said. “So experience is a big deal. Everyone knows that if you’re on a Baylor team, you’re trying to win the NCAAs, you’re not just trying to get in. Our expectations are much higher than the average program, and I think players like Blair, Theresa, Kiah,
their experience is invaluable and should really help us against Wake Forest.”
Generette and Shankle helped spark the turnaround by going 16 6 as a doubles pairing to rank No. 20 in the country. Shankle also went 15 6 in singles and is ranked No. 91.
Generette, the women’s lone senior, won five of her last seven singles matches of the season.
“She’s definitely trending in the right direction,” Scrivano said. “Arguably, she’s playing the best tennis of any player on our team. We need her to keep doing that. In practices she’s looked really, really strong, probably better than she’s looked all season.”
Wake Forest (19 9) finished in the middle of the pack in the ACC at 7 7 and reached the conference quarterfinals with a win over Virginia Tech. It was then defeated, 4 1, by third ranked North Carolina.
Emma Davis, ranked No. 111 in the country, scored the lone victory for the Demon Deacons. Their top singles player is No. 64 Kimmy Guerin, who is also ranked No. 62 in doubles when teamed with Anna Ulyashchenko.
“They’re a really, really good team,
” Scrivano said. “They play a brutal ACC schedule and they did really well with that. They’re just going to test us at every position, and we’ve got to be ready to play.”