The venue may have been new but Rice’s dominance of Conference USA women’s tennis hasn’t changed one bit.
Playing in front of friends and family at the George R. Brown Tennis Center in Houston, Rice defeated Marshal 4-1 Sunday to win the C-USA tournament championship for the third straight season.
The Owls will make its fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament next month. NCAA locations, seeds and the bracket will be announced April 28.
“I’m so excited that I’ve been part of this team for the past four years and to do what we’ve done,” said Rice senior Natalie Beazant in a post-match interview. It’s the first time in school history Rice has earned a postseason trip four years in a row.
Top seed Rice (16-8) won 12 of 14 points against Charlotte, FIU and Marshall Friday through Sunday to win the title. They finished 12-1 at the Brown Center, which opened this school year.
“We’re just really proud to be able to represent Rice and get these championships for our school,” Rice coach Elizabeth Schmidt said. “Rice is a special place, the Rice family is a special family and it was really awesome to be able to win this championship at home in front of all our fans who have stayed with us through thick and thin.”
The thin times included six straight losses from Jan. 24 to Feb. 13, featuring bookend shutouts from Kentucky and Baylor. The latter came at the Brown Center and left the Owls 1-6. They have gone 15-2 since, including beating No. 2 seed Marshall twice.
Sunday’s match was dicey for awhile. The Owls won the doubles point to kick it off. Natalie Beazant and Liat Zimmermann teamed up to beat Derya Turhan and Anna Pomyatinskaya 8-3. Meanwhile Alison Ho and Lindsey Hodge took care of Kai Broomfield and Marija Bogicevic 8-2.
Savannah Durkin capped an undefeated weekend by defeating Bogicevic 6-3, 6-2 in No. 5 singles. The Herd got on the board with Maddie Silver’s win over Zimmermann 6-1, 6-2 in No. 3 singles.
Pomyatinskaya won the first set in No. 2 singles, and Turham was giving Beazant a run for her money in No. 1 singles. Down 6-5, Beazant won a key game and then took the tiebreaker 7-4, before dominating Turham 6-1 in the second set to give Rice a 3-1 lead.
“In the first set she found a place where she had some really good points, and I started to feel a little bit tight,” Beazant said. “It definitely took a little bit of momentum to get back into it again.”
Solomiya Zinko clinched the title for Rice by finishing off Rachael Morales 7-5, 6-0 in No. 6 singles.
“There was a point there when it got pretty tense when we were down on several courts and we were struggling a little bit,” Schmidt said. “Marshall was really taking it to us, but our team stayed composed and showed a great deal of mental toughness.”
Rice has now won four Conference USA women’s tennis titles in the 10 years the Owls were member of the conference. Rice tied Tulane for the second most conference crowns. Tulsa has the most with five.
Rice has won an NCAA Tournament match in each of the last three seasons. The Owls fell to hosts Stanford and Baylor in the second round in each of the last two years. Rice made the Sweet 16 in 2012.
“We will wait to see what happens with the draw, but we will be proud to represent Conference USA,” Beazant said. “Hopefully we can make the conference and Rice proud.”