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ETSU will face Columbia, Duke in NCAA tennis

Kelly Hodge • Apr 29, 2014 at 10:40 PM

Roger Ordeig has admittedly been a bit spoiled by East Tennessee State’s success in tennis.

As the team’s lone senior, Ordeig has gotten to experience an Atlantic Sun Conference championship for four years in a row now. Trouble is, the Spaniard has yet to taste victory at the NCAA tournament.

That mission is on again for the young Bucs, who will be making their eighth straight appearance next weekend. On Tuesday they were paired against Ivy League champion Columbia in a first-round match at Vanderbilt on May 10.

The ETSU women, meanwhile, were assigned a May 9 date at fourth-ranked Duke.

For Ordeig, it’s the last chance to enjoy some NCAA glory. He came in on the heels of the Bucs’ first-round win over Alabama in 2010. (They also defeated Notre Dame two years earlier.)

“When I was a freshman, we won the conference and lost in the first round,” said Ordeig, “and that’s the way it has been since. The best thing as a college tennis player is to be in the nationals, but losing in the first round is a bittersweet feeling to end the season.

“I think we can get past that this year. We can make more history.”

The Bucs (14-8) have seemingly faced more daunting challenges in the first round, though Columbia is 20-1 and seeded 16th overall in the tournament. Vanderbilt (16-12) will face Virginia Tech (14-11) in the other first-round match at the site, with the winners meeting the following day.

Yaser Zaatini, the ETSU director of tennis and men’s head coach, is cautiously optimistic about the A-Sun champion advancing.

“I’m very encouraged, but Columbia is tough,” he said. “They won the Ivy League rather easily. You know it’s never going to be easy for a mid-major program like us, but we’re going to fight like we always do.”

This will be the fourth Ivy League opponent for the Bucs this spring. They defeated Brown and Yale but were shut out by Dartmouth.

Zaatini was joined by all the ETSU players, along with women’s coach Travis Sandlant, men’s assistant Ricky Rojas and several administrators and supporters, to watch the brackets unfold Tuesday at the Martha Culp Auditorium on campus.

While an NCAA bid has come to be expected of the ETSU men, it’s a real treat for the women this year.

The Lady Bucs finished runner-up to North Florida at the conference tournament the last two years. Now, after battling injuries and illness, they get a chance to make history in their fourth NCAA appearance for the program overall.

“It’s definitely something I’ve dreamed about, playing in the NCAA tournament,” said Jessica Brumit, a junior from Elizabethton. “We’ve had a challenging season, with some ups and downs, and were maybe a little more of an underdog than some other seasons. I’m proud of us getting to this point.

“Now we just have to go back to work and make the most of our opportunity.”

The Lady Bucs (14-8) will be huge underdogs against Duke (24-4), the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, which is making its 25th straight NCAA appearance. Also in Durham will be Ohio State (19-8) and South Carolina (16-8).

“We haven’t played a team this good, but we saw some teams in the fall like Duke,” said Sandlant. “So we have a feel for the level they play at. The key is for the girls to learn from the experience and keep building. It’s just good to be in this position.”

The ETSU men are also building for the future. There are four freshmen and a sophomore in their lineup, and they aren’t afraid.

Said Zaatini, “Ignorance is bliss. They think they can win the national championship.”

Ordeig addressed the team earlier Tuesday, serving as the voice of experience for this new adventure. He likes the chemistry.

“These guys are like fresh air,” he said, “and we feel like we can put pressure on any team. I just told them this is a huge chance.”

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