Coming off its third straight Southern Conference men’s tennis championship, East Tennessee State will face No. 11 seed Georgia in the upcoming NCAA tournament this weekend.
Watching Monday night at the D.P. Culp Center on campus, the Bucs (13-7) reacted favorably to the news they would be headed to Athens and take on the Bulldogs (14-6) from the Southeastern Conference.
“There’s a few teams above the rest,” ETSU coach Martin Stiegwardt said. “Even though they’re not 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 one of the top two or three teams like we’ve had in the past. But we will have to play our best tennis to give ourselves a chance.”
The match is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start on Saturday.
ETSU comes into the tournament after winning its second consecutive regular season title along with the third tournament crown. The Bucs were a perfect 6-0 at home, but 6-6 on the road.
Stiegwardt believes they still have the grit to match up with the Bulldogs. While he hasn’t seen this year’s Georgia team, he is aware of them. The Bulldogs record includes going 5-5 against nationally-ranked opponents.
“We haven’t crossed paths, but I’ve known that team a long time,” Stiegwardt said. “This year has been weird. Not having a fall (season), I haven’t seen many of the new guys they have. There’s a little unknown, so I will have to do some homework.
“But I like our team. We’ve shown resiliency, had some injuries where my No. 1 player didn’t play all year. We’ve had injuries throughout the semester and have four new players. It’s been a roller-coaster, but it’s nice to see the younger guys step up.”
Dimitri Badra, a redshirt sophomore for Venezuela, is ETSU’s No. 1 player. Sporting a good forehand, he has a 14-5 record in singles and has teamed with countryman Miguel Este for a 12-1 doubles record. They’re on a nine-match win streak.
“It was very exciting to see our name up there after all that has gone on,” Badra said. “I feel really good and feel like I’m playing my best tennis this semester. I feel this is going to be a good match.”
Frazier Rengifo, a senior from Colombia, is playing at No. 2 singles and also recently at No. 1 doubles with Juan Lugo, another Venezuelan. They have combined for an 8-5 record.
In the most recent match, a 4-2 win over Furman in the SoCon tournament championship, Thiago Pernas, Este and Milo Bargeron rounded out the ETSU singles lineup.
The Bulldogs counter with three players — Trent Bryde, Phillip Henning and Tyler Zink — who were named to the All-SEC team.
Bryde, a Georgia native and the team’s No. 1 player, ranks No. 5 as a national doubles player and No. 16 singles. Henning hails from South Africa and ranks No. 20 nationally. Zink is from Jupiter, Florida, and the doubles partner of Byrde. Together, they’ve compiled a 13-6 overall record.
VOLS ALSO TO PLAY bullDOGS
No. 3 Tennessee, fresh off winning the SEC championship, will host Alabama A&M in the first round.
The Vols (24-3) are currently riding a five-match win streak and are 13-0 in Knoxville. Tennessee played ETSU back on Jan. 19, a 7-0 win for the Vols.
Johannus Monday, a 6-foot-6 freshman from England, played No. 1 that day and has a 23-4 singles record. Adam Walton, a senior from Australia, has played at No. 1 for the Vols much of the season.
They will be heavily favored as the Bulldogs (6-6) pulled off a 4-3 upset of Alabama State in the SWAC championship to earn its NCAA bid.