JOHNSON CITY – Following their third straight Southern Conference men’s tennis championship, eastern Tennessee will face No.11 Georgia this weekend in the NCAA tournament.
Watching Monday night at the DP Culp Center on campus, the Bucs (13-7) reacted favorably to the news that they were heading to Athens to face the Bulldogs (14-6) of the Southeastern Conference.
“There are a few teams above the rest,” said ETSU coach Martin Stiegwardt. “Even though they’re not at the top of the SEC, Georgia is one of the toughest places to play. There’s a much better chance of beating them than one of the top two or three teams like we’ve had in the past. But we’ll have to play our best tennis to give ourselves a chance.
The ETSU won their second straight regular season title and third tournament title, finishing 6-0 at home but just 6-6 on the road.
Stiegwardt believes his team have the courage to compete with the Bulldogs, who are 5-5 this season against nationally ranked opponents.
“We haven’t crossed paths, but I’ve known this team for a long time,” said the coach. “This year has been weird. Having no fall (season) I haven’t seen a lot of new guys they have. There is a bit of the unknown, so I’m going to have to do some homework.
“But I like our team. We have been resilient, have had injuries where my No.1 player hasn’t played all year. We’ve had injuries throughout the semester and have four new players. It’s been a roller coaster ride, but it’s nice to see the younger ones getting up.
Dimitri Badra, a sophomore in a red shirt from Venezuela, is ETSU’s No.1 player. Sporting a good forehand, he is 14-5 in singles and teamed up with compatriot Miguel Este for a 12-1 record in doubles. They are on a nine-game winning streak.
“It was very exciting to see our name up there after everything that happened,” said Badra. “I feel really good and I feel like I’m playing my best tennis this semester. I think it will be a good game.
Frazier Rengifo, a senior from Colombia, is the No.2 player in singles and recently played No.1 in doubles with Juan Lugo, another Venezuelan. They have 8-5.
In the most recent match, a 4-2 victory over Furman in the SoCon tournament championship, Thiago Pernas, Este and Milo Bargeron completed the ETSU singles roster.
The Bulldogs versus with three players – Trent Bryde, Phillip Henning and Tyler Zink – who were part of the All-SEC squad.
Bryde, the team’s No.1 player, ranks No.5 nationally as a doubles player and No.16 in singles. Henning ranks 20th nationally. Zink teamed up with Bryde in doubles, and they were 13-6.
The Bucs and Bulldogs will meet on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Virginia Tech and Texas Tech will also compete in Athens, which will play at 10 a.m. 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’s winners will play on Sunday to determine who qualifies for the round of 16.