By Cody Soto
Two-seed Baylor men’s tennis earned a spot in the NCAA Round of 16 for the 14th-straight year after sweeping both No. 29 LSU and unranked Bryant in the regional championships Friday and Saturday in Waco.
The Bears blanked the Bryant Bulldogs 4-0 at the Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center Friday evening in a rather dominant fashion, but the match against the Bulldogs was a different story.
“I’m proud of the guys, we knew it was going to be pretty tough. We were a little lucky to win the doubles, but we won six first sets,” head coach Matt Knoll said. “It’s hard to argue with that. A great performance.”
Baylor struggled on all but one court during doubles play, missing opportunities at the net and getting the short end of the classic scoring system. No. 14 Jordan Daigle and Boris Arias upset the eighth-ranked duo of junior Julian Lenz and senior Diego Galeano 8-5 on court one, forcing Baylor to have to win the remaining courts for the doubles point.
Junior Felipe Rios and sophomore Vince Schneider took an 8-3 win over Tam Trinh and Andrew Korinek at the No. 2 spot, leaving the decision to be made on court five. Senior Mate Zsiga and sophomore Max Tchoutakian were trailing 6-5 when a collision between both LSU doubles player results in a right hand injury for LSU sophomore Justin Butsch. Baylor went on to win the next game to tie it up, and a code violation by Butsch gave the Bears the 7-6 lead.
Baylor did not hold up despite the unfortunate circumstances for LSU. Zsiga served up a perfect game to give the Bears the doubles point, but it was not as easy as it looked playing against an injured player, Zsiga said.
“It’s really hard to stay focused (at that point) because there’s a lot of distractions,” he said. “It’s not easy. Even though he’s hurt, it’s just part of the deal. You’ve got to finish it and there’s no mercy especially here at the end of the year, but I hope he recovers fast.”
The Bears did not looked fazed by doubles play as the team captured all six first sets against the Tigers. While the top of the lineup was being forced to play from behind in the second and third sets, the bottom of the lineup wrapped up play and captured three singles points for the win.
Rios was the first off the court as he took a 6-1, 6-1 victory over LSU’s Simon Freund on court six, making him the first Baylor player to capture a singles point for the second-straight day. Rios showed consistency and was able to outlast his opponents over the weekend which gave him the two wins.
No. 116 Zsiga won 6-4, 6-0 over Korinek at the No. 5 spot, and while he rolled past his opponent in the second set, the Szeged, Hungary native had to hold off a late run by LSU in the opening frame in order to come away with the win.
“It was a good start, kind of a little bit weird because he controlled a lot of points,” Zsiga said. “I was patient after I was pressing a little too hard, but afterwards he just gave me a lot of free points. I served well in the second set and I was able to close it out.”
Galeano clinched the final point for the Bears on court four, running away with a convincing 6-4, 6-2 win over Trinh. The senior has now won five-straight matches in dual match play after starting out the year very shaky. Galeano was also able to not only play for the team, but also for his family in the stands. After the match, Galeano could not stop smiling.
“I have almost 20 people here from Paraguay, so it was amazing,” Galeano said. “Playing again with my family here in the stands is a different level. It motivates me to fight me even harder, to play for every point. I know I can wake up one day and it could be my last day as a Baylor Bear, so I fight every point.”
Although the team showed some vulnerability on a few courts, Knoll is not looking at that. The tournament run is all about winning and making it to the next round.
“I don’t think that you try to evaluate your play as much during the NCAA tournament, because you just try to make it to the next day,” Knoll said. “You look to advance, and we advanced. It’s a little less than a week before we play again, and we certainly hope that we play better.”
The Bears now face No. 18 South Florida in the NCAA Round of 16. The Bulls boast a 23-6 season record and come into the match with a 4-0 win over Virginia Tech. Baylor and South Florida meet at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Hurd Tennis Center.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Eight-seed Baylor women’s tennis had to dig deep against the Rice Owls Sunday afternoon. The winner would advance to the NCAA Round of 16, and the loser would go home.
The Bears came out flat against Rice in doubles play, struggling at different times on all three courts. Baylor may have already shut out the Owls twice this season, but Rice was out for revenge.
“We have played Rice so many times over the past two years. They definitely had the advantage in regards to adjustments,” head coach Joey Scrivano said. “They made some great adjustments and they played well. We had to counter that and our girls showed a lot of character to come back.”
Natalie Beazant and Liat Zimmerman upset No. 62 senior Ema Burgic and junior Rachael James-Baker 8-3 on court one, pushing Rice ahead early.
Junior Kiah Generette and sophomore Blair Shankle looked dead in the water when they trailed 3-0 on court three, but a few adjustments made the difference for the duo. After that, the pair went on an 8-1 run to close out the match with a 8-4 win, tying up doubles play.
All eyes quickly switched over to court two where freshmen Kelley Anderson and Leolia JeanJean led 6-3 at one point. Rice’s Lindsey Hodge and Alison Ho rattled off five straight games to take the lead and the match, 8-6. The doubles point belonged to Rice, and Baylor was forced to play from behind before singles play even started.
“Anytime you’re down in a big match like this your mind can start playing tricks on you, and I was just proud of our girls’ discipline and their ability to stick with it,” Scrivano said.
Rice controlled many singles matches in the early stages of competition, but Baylor countered the attack. While the Bears led on courts two, four and six, the Owls owned courts one, three and five.
Anderson scratched the board for Baylor when she blew past Stephanie Nguyen 6-2, 6-1 to tie up the match 1-1. No. 80 Generette followed suit when she won 6-1, 6-2 on court two to give Baylor its first lead of the afternoon. That point helped put a light in the team’s eyes and gave them the motivation that they could win, Scrivano said.
“Kiah deserves so much credit for her focus today,” Scrivano said. “That really stabilized our team. That gave our team some belief and hope that everything was going to be okay.”
No. 113 James-Baker, who has not been in the regular lineup, was given a chance to prove herself after a poor performance in doubles play. Scrivano left her in the lineup, and she took advantage of the opportunity with a 6-2, 6-4 win on court four.
With a 3-1 lead, Rice inched closer as No. 32 Natalie Beazant upset No. 22 Burgic at the top of the lineup, 6-2, 6-3. Just as things got competitive again, the match-clinching point came on court three.
“This is win or go home, so I was just giving it my all, every game and every point,” Shankle said. “Liat is a very tough player, especially off the ground. Rice came out and played an amazing match.”
Shankle struggled early in the contest, looking out of system against a left-handed Zimmerman in set one. After that, the Dallas native turned it around and controlled the rest of the match.
“I got it straight in my mind of what I needed to do,” Shankle said. “In the first set, I was committing and not committing. In the second and third set, I committed to the game plan Coach and I talked about, and I tried to execute as best as I could.”
She held Zimmerman to only winning three more games in the final two sets, and a big play by Shankle gave her the 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 win at the No. 3 spot and the 4-2 Baylor win.
“This was a tug of war, and thankfully we came out on top,” Scrivano said. “As a coach and our players, we know this is incredibly hard. The team on the other side wants it just as much as you want it. We’re a young team at a lot of positions, and it creeped in at times. It’s all about getting back on track, and we did that.”
Baylor advances to the NCAA Round of 16 for the 11th time in program history, its 10th in 11 years. The Bears face nine-seed Virginia at 7 p.m. on Friday at the Hurd Tennis Center. Follow @BUCodySoto for live coverage of the NCAA Championships.