By Cody Soto
Baylor tennis will host the first and second rounds of the 2015 NCAA Tennis Championships on May 8-10 at the Hurd Tennis Center after both programs received top 10 tournament bids on Tuesday afternoon.
Two-seed Baylor will open the team’s 2015 tournament run against unseeded Bryant in the opening round on May 8. The bid was Baylor’s 18th-straight tournament bid dating back to 1997.
The team is 22-0 in first and second round matches when hosting in Waco. Nevertheless, the Bears do not get upset in the early tournament rounds. The No. 2 overall seed is the first time since 2003 that the team received a top two seeding.
“It’s been a great season,” head coach Matt Knoll said. “I think if you told me at the beginning of the season that we would be the two-seed, we would be excited about that. Now it is time to get started with the real business.”
The Bears are coming off a rough 4-3 loss against top-seeded Oklahoma last Sunday in Waco. The team came up short after rallying from a 3-0 deficit to tie up the matchup with one singles match remaining.
Junior Felipe Rios lost a three-set decision on court six to end the top two meeting. With that loss in the rearview mirror, Baylor will have a chance to make a deep tournament run.
“We’ve got to take it one match at a time,” senior Mate Zsiga said. “Even though we lost the last match, it gives us the confidence that we were right there. But that’s the past. We’ve got to put it behind us.”
Bryant (8-11) earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament after winning the Northeast Conference championship over Fairleigh Dickinson, 4-3. The Black and Gold have won eight of their last 11 matches but still boast a losing recording coming into the tournament.
Baylor will also host UTSA and LSU in the other part of the bracket in Waco. Both teams come into the bracket with a 17-8 record, and one team will face the winner of Baylor vs. Bryant on Saturday May 9.
LSU received an at-large bid out of the Southeastern Conference while the Roadrunners were selected for their fourth consecutive tournament appearance after winning the Conference USA tournament title over No. 54 Rice.
Assuming the Bears win, the team will advance to the Round of 16 on May 14 in Waco. The final rounds of the championships will be held on May 16-18, giving the Bears a chance to win the 2015 NCAA title on their own courts.
“We take a lot of pride in Baylor,” Knoll said. “We want to put our best foot forward and make sure everyone understands what a special place this is, and understand what special people we have. That is going to take a big commitment from everybody around here.”
This experience could be an excellent opportunity for the Bears to push through to the final match. This year’s bracket is very special, Zsiga said.
“This is a dream come true however it’s going to end,” he said. “I’m putting on the green and gold for the last time on our home court, and this is something every student athletes wishes for. I’m glad I’m going to finish my Baylor career here on this beautiful campus and at the best facility in the country.”
Eighth-seeded Baylor women’s tennis will play unseeded Northwestern State on Saturday May 9 in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Hurd Tennis Center. It is the 11th consecutive appearance in the championships, this year being the highest seed since 2011.
The Bears (25-6) earned an automatic bid after dominating Texas Tech 4-0 in the Big 12 conference tournament final last Sunday in Waco. The title win was the eighth tournament trophy for the program, all of which have been under head coach Joey Scrivano.
“In the last match against Texas Tech, everyone had so much energy and played really well which brings a lot of confidence, and we have that momentum,” senior Ema Burgic said. “I know everyone is ready to practice until next weekend. I’m really excited for that home court advantage.”
Baylor is 18-0 when playing NCAA matches at home, and the regional round is a good draw for the team, Scrivano said.
“It’s exciting that we are hosting and the draw looks really good for us,” he said. “Coming out as an eight-seed, all the hard work during the regular season paid off. We got a good seed.”
Northwestern State (16-8) defeated Nicholls State 4-2 in the Southland Conference Championship final to punch a ticket to this year’s tournament. The other two teams in the Waco regional are No. 28 Rice and No. 46 Tulsa. Rice comes into the postseason with a 16-8 record while Tulsa boasts a 16-10 mark in 2015.
Baylor defeated both teams during the regular season, but the Bears are not looking ahead just yet. Just like Scrivano has said all season, the team will focus on one match at a time.
“The good news is two of the three teams we know very well – Rice and Tulsa,” Scrivano said. “But we will have to do some homework on Northwestern State for sure.”
Assuming Baylor wins, the team will face off against the Rice vs. Tulsa winner on Sunday May 10. The Bears don’t want to be upset early in the tournament with the final site being on their home court. Is there pressure to win? Yes. Baylor will need to forget previous struggles in the opening rounds and push through to the Round of 16, Scrivano said.
“Two of the last three years, getting to the final site was a challenge,” Scrivano said. “This year, for us to be sitting comfortably at a high seed, says a lot about the hard work of our players and coaches. It paid off.”
Baylor hosts the NCAA Championships on May 15-19 at the Hurd Tennis Center in Waco. No. 22 Burgic will lead the way with a relatively young team, but with two conference championships under their belt, the Bears have the confidence they need to make a deep tournament run at home.
“We had a really good season, and we deserve to be here,” Burgic said. “It’s a big advantage for us, and this team deserves it.”