"There was some excitement and some nerves, and I'm just really delighted that our kids fought so hard," said Howard Joffe, who was making his first appearance at the Mitchell Tennis Center as head coach of the Aggies. "It was always going to be a difficult day with the temperature dipping, and the winds, certainly at the start of the match, were really high for what we are used to. Our kids battled really, really hard and I'm delighted that we were able to win. It was a real team effort."
It was the fifth consecutive victory for the Aggies, who improve to 5-1. Rice falls to 6-3.
A&M won the closely contested doubles point to take a 1-0 lead. Although the Aggies' Janelle Cuthbertson and Nazari Urbina cruised to an 8-3 victory over Katie Gater and Ana Guzman at the No. 2 line, the other two courts were each decided by two games.
Rice evened the race for the crucial point as the 47th-ranked duo of Natalie Beazant and Dominique Harmath pulled off a 9-7 win over Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar and Wen Sun at the No. 1 court. The Owls were down a break at 6-4 but got back on serve at 7-7. Rice then broke A&M to take an 8-7 lead and then held serve to clinch the match.
The point came down to Court 3. Rice's Kimberly Anicete and Stephanie Nguyen held a 5-2 lead against A&M's Sheri Olivier and Lauren Santacroce before the Aggie tandem made its comeback, eventually tying the score and getting back on serve at 6-6. Santacroce served the Aggies to a 7-6 lead and the A&M duo then broke Rice in the ensuing game to notch an 8-6 win and clinch the doubles point for the Aggies, while also improving to 4-0 in dual matches.
"I was really proud of Lauren Santacroce and Sheri Olivier," Joffe said. "They got down, got off to a horrible start, were not playing their best, and it would have been real easy, where we were winning at Nos. 1 and 2, to sort of let go of the rope a little bit, but they didn't and they fought and they clawed and they fought and they clawed. It probably wasn't their finest or prettiest hour, but it certainly gave us a huge boost."
A&M started singles by winning the first set on five courts. Sun went on to give the Aggies a 2-0 lead after completing a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Guzman at the No. 3 line. Urbina quickly followed, defeating Harmath by the identical score at No. 2, capping the victory with an ace to put A&M ahead, 3-0.
Olivier, playing in only her third singles match in the dual season, clinched the match for the Aggies, jumping out to a 4-0 first-set lead against Nguyen en route to a 6-2, 6-2 win at No. 6.
Anicete put Rice on the board with a comeback win against Cuthbertson at the No. 5 line. Cuthbertson won the first set, 7-5, and Anicete took the second set, 7-5. With the team winner already decided, they played a 10-point super tiebreaker for the third set. Cuthbertson came back from two points down to tie the score at 7-7 before Anicete reeled off three unanswered points to win the set and the match.
Gater also completed a come-from-behind victory to put the Owls within 4-2. Santacroce won the first set, 7-5, at the No. 4 line, and Gater evened the match with a 6-3 win in the second set. Gater never trailed in the super tiebreaker, winning the third set, 10-7.
The final match came down to a battle of unbeatens playing at the No. 1 line. Sanchez-Quintanar, who entered the match 5-0 in dual matches and ranked No. 14, struggled in the first set against the 8-0 Beazant and fell, 6-4. Sanchez-Quintanar then won the second set, 6-2, winning four consecutive games to close out the frame and even the match. The match had already gone in to the third set before A&M had won the overall match, so the super tiebreaker would not go into effect. Just like the second set, the score was tied 2-2 before Sanchez-Quintanar won four straight to win the match and improve to 6-0.
"One of the things that is starting to emerge a little with our team is that when we are fortunate to win, it is coming as a function of a team effort," Joffe said. "Today, even though Cristina is unbeaten, the win didn't come from her per se today. Specifically to Cristina, she did a great job of fighting down a set against a kid that was definitely very confident and playing rather good tennis. More importantly, the team win was very good. We got two doubles at Nos. 2 and 3. Sheri was playing in the singles today and managed to close the match out, so that was very positive.
"One of the difficult things, when you are depending every single day on the same folks to get it done, it is a lot of weight to carry, and that is why I was delighted with our win here and our two wins last week. It was very much a team deal where other folks are getting it done and contributing."
The Aggies return to the road on Monday, playing at No. 37 TCU. First serve is at 5:30 p.m. at the Bernard "Tut" Bartzen Varsity Courts.
"TCU has a very, very strong lineup," Joffe said. "I don't know a ton about them in terms of results. I know they beat a top-20 team in Oklahoma and have moved up in the rankings. They've also had some mediocre losses, so it will be a huge test for us. All of these matches are a huge test for us. We have played a lot of tennis from the West Coast to the East Coast, the different time zones, and it has been a lot of wear-and-tear on our kids. I hope we are rested and ready to go Monday. We definitely relish the idea of getting some semblance of a rhythm playing here, but again in the season it is one match at a time, and so the sights now will be set on trying to prepare for TCU."
No. 28 Texas A&M 5, No. 68 Rice 2
February 24, 2012
George P. Mitchell Tennis Center
College Station, Texas
1. (#14) Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (TAMU) def. Natalie Beazant (RU), 4-6, 6-2, 6-2
2. Nazari Urbina (TAMU) def. Dominique Harmath (RU), 6-2, 6-2
3. (#86) Wen Sun (TAMU) def. Katie Gater (RU), 6-2, 6-2
4. Ana Guzman (RU) def. Lauren Santacroce (TAMU), 5-7, 6-3, 1-0 (7)
5. Kimberly Anicete (RU) def. Janelle Cuthbertson (TAMU), 5-7, 7-5, 1-0 (7)
6. Sheri Olivier (TAMU) def. Stephanie Nguyen (RU), 6-2, 6-2
Doubles (A&M wins the point)
1. (#47) Beazant/Harmath (RU) def. Sanchez-Quintanar/Sun (TAMU), 9-7
2. Cuthbertson/Urbina (TAMU) def. Gater/Guzman (RU), 8-3
3. Olivier/Santacroce (TAMU) def. Anicete/Nguyen (RU), 8-6
Order of finish
Doubles: 2, 1, 3
Singles: 3, 2, 6*, 5, 4, 1
* - Clinched match
Texas A&M: 6-1