The East Tennessee State men’s tennis team has won NCAA tournament matches before, but never as a 4-seed facing the regional host in the first round.
The Bucs get another chance today when they take on Vanderbilt in Nashville. Match time is 3 o’clock at the Currey Tennis Center.
The Commodores are the No. 16 seed overall and appear to be a bit vulnerable. They have a 16-10 record and split their 12 matches in the Southeastern Conference; they lost three of their last four.
ETSU coach Yaser Zaatini, however, knows full well that any opponent from the SEC is going to be a tough matchup for his team.
“This is not like baseball, where you can catch a pitcher on a bad day and everybody can find the ball,” Zaatini said Thursday. “This is six people playing at the same time, and if you can’t get it done, you’re finished. It’s about depth, and Vandy is deep.”
The Bucs are the Atlantic Sun champs for the seventh straight year, with a record of 13-6. They have made 10 previous NCAA appearances, winning first-round matches against Notre Dame in 2008 and Alabama in 2010.
Zaatini wasn’t particularly pleased with his players’ preparation leading up to today’s competition.
“We had a terrible practice yesterday,” he said. “We were lackadaisical, and that was disappointing as a coach.
“You expect kids to want it, treat it like it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. This may not happen again. I want to see some urgency.”
Today could be the end for senior Jesus Bandres, a first-team all-conference player. He plays 13th-ranked Ryan Lipman in No. 1 singles.
Sophomore Rogerio Ribeiro is another first-teamer for the Bucs who enters with an 11-match win streak this spring. But he’s 0-5 against nationally ranked opponents, and will face No. 47 Gonzalez Austin.
The rest of the ETSU lineup includes senior Juan Ramirez, juniors Jorge Varon and Roger Ordeig, and redshirt freshman Ricardo Pabon.
Zaatini breaks down the competition in fairly simple terms.
“Their No. 1 player is top-20 in the country, and their No. 2 is a physical specimen. The bottom half of their lineup has very smart players,” he said. “We’re just a scrappy bunch of foreigners that is going to scratch and claw. Hopefully we’ll find a way to win.”
Illinois and Georgia State are the other two teams at the regional and will get today’s action started at noon.