JOHNSON CITY Hailing from the Southern Conference’s third consecutive men’s tennis championship, the state of East Tennessee will face No. 11 seed Georgia in the NCAA tournament this weekend.
When they watched the DP Culp Center on campus on Monday night, the Bucs (13-7) responded positively to the news that they were heading to Athens to take on the Bulldogs (14-6) of the Southeastern Conference.
There are a few teams above the rest, said ETSU coach Martin Stiegwardt. Even though they aren’t at the top of the SEC, Georgia is one of the hardest places to play. There’s a much better chance of beating them than any of the top two or three teams we’ve had in the past. But we will have to play our best tennis to give ourselves a chance.
ETSU won its second consecutive regular season title and third tournament crown, finishing 6-0 at home, although only 6-6 on the road.
Stiegwardt believes his team has the guts to match the Bulldogs, who are 5-5 against nationally seeded opponents this season.
We didn’t cross each other, but I’ve known that team for a long time, the coach said. This year was weird. Since I haven’t had fall (season) I haven’t seen many of the new guys they have. There’s a little bit of unknown so I’ll have to do some homework.
But I love our team. We’ve shown resilience, had some injuries where my number 1 player didn’t play all year. We’ve had injuries all semester and have four new players. It’s been a rollercoaster, but it’s nice to see the younger guys stepping out.
Dimitri Badra, a red-shirt sophomore from Venezuela, is ETSU’s No. 1 player. With a good forehand, he has a 14-5 singles record and has set a 12-1 doubles record together with fellow countryman Miguel Este. They have a nine-game winning streak.
It was very exciting to see our name up there after all that has happened, Badra said. I feel really good and feel like I’m playing my best tennis this semester. I think this is going to be a good match.
Frazier Rengifo, a senior from Colombia, is the # 2 singles player and recently played # 1 in doubles with Juan Lugo, another Venezuelan. They are 8-5.
In the most recent game, a 4-2 win over Furman in the SoCon tournament championship, Thiago Pernas, Este and Milo Bargeron completed the ETSU singles line-up.
The Bulldogs countered with three players Trent Bryde, Phillip Henning and Tyler Zink who made the All-SEC team.
Bryde, the team’s number 1 player, is number 5 nationally in doubles and number 16 in singles. Henning is number 20 nationally. Zink teams up with Bryde in doubles, and they are 13-6.
The Bucs and Bulldogs meet on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Virginia Tech and Texas Tech will also participate in Athens, playing at 10:00 AM on Saturday. The Hokies (12-9) fell in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. The Red Raiders (12-4) lost in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.
Saturday winners will play on Sunday to determine who will advance to the round of 16.
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