Don’t think the Texas Tech women’s tennis team didn’t notice.
Despite bringing back every member of the 2012 Big 12 Conference championships squad, the Red Raiders were picked in the preseason to finish third in the league this year. That’s also despite being the highest-ranked member of the Big 12 according to the International Tennis Association and No. 21 in the nation.
“I think that makes us angry a little bit, maybe,” said senior Elizabeth Ullathorne, an All-big 12 honoree a year ago. “I guess some people just don’t have much respect or us, but we will prove them wrong.”
Tech (9-4, 0-0 in Big 12) gets a chance to do that on Sunday, March 17 at 1 p.m. when it opens league play against No. 28 Oklahoma (8-4, 2-1) at the McLeod Tennis Center.
The Sooners opened Big 12 play with wins over Kansas and Kansas State but fell 6-1 on Friday, March 15 at No. 39 Texas. Tech head coach Todd Petty, however, knows the Sooner will be a very tough opponent.
“They’re much improved from last year and have added a true No. 1,” Petty said. “They’re as good as anybody in the conference. They’ve had some good non-conference wins and are ranked significantly higher than they finished last year and is probably as tough a team as we’ve started conference with. But I like that opportunity to get a good significant win right off the bat and have that opportunity build momentum from the beginning.”
Tech is coming off a loss in its last match, albeit to the No. 1-ranked team in that nation in North Carolina. Petty, however, feels that match will benefit the Red Raiders greatly as they go through the gauntlet that is the Big 12, where seven teams are ranked in the top 50.
At home, though, the Red Raiders have been almost unbeatable, having won 12 straight matches and 24 of the last 25 at the McLeod Tennis Center since April of 2010.
Then there’s the experience factor. Tech holds a match record of 102-65 going into the OU match, with four players from last year who won at least 20 matches already at 10 or more wins this season.
“I think that what’s really going to help us is our experience,” said Ullathorne, who is 17-6 this season and 9-2 in dual matches. “Overall we’ve been here before so we know what to expect.”
Petty pointed out, however, that it doesn’t mean they can just show up and play. That message, though, seems to have been taken to heart through a tough non-conference schedule that included five teams ranked in the top 30.
At the same time, being picked third in the district has allowed the Red Raiders to still play to the underdog role despite having a bit of a target on their back.
“We’re more battle tested going into conference, and we peaked early last year with the win over Ole Miss,” Petty said. “We’re starting to play our best tennis this year right now, which is when you want to be.
“This team has taken the underdog approach and will for a long time. I don’t think much is going to change for them.”
Except, maybe, for self-expectations, which have risen significantly.
“I think a win ... puts us in good shape to try and host an NCAA tournament (regional),” Ullathorne said.
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