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Tennis: Ley inspired by ’88 squad

Tennis: Ley inspired by ’88 squad

Tennis: Ley inspired by ’88 squad

Dan McDonald

Robin Ley was only a toddler when the University of Louisiana tennis team made its biggest-ever national splash. But he credits that 1988 Ragin’ Cajun unit for helping him and this year’s squad get off to an impressive start.
The 1988 squad, which ranked in the national top 15 and boasted All-Americans Bret Garnett and Ashley Rhoney, met with the current edition of the Cajuns last fall when that unit held a reunion.

"They had played against a lot of top schools," Ley said. "It was inspirational to hear them talk about what they did, and before we played Florida State we talked about what they told us."

Ley and his UL teammates promptly went out and beat the 11th-ranked Seminoles 4-3 in Tallahassee on Jan. 28, posting one of the program’s biggest dual-match wins since that late-80s heyday. Ley’s 6-4, 6-4 win over FSU’s Maciek Sykut at No. 4 singles was a pivotal part.
The FIU match was the biggest win in the Cajuns’ 4-1 spring start, a streak they’ll try to continue Saturday when they host nationally ranked Rice at 1 p.m. at Cajun Courts.

"We’ve had a fantastic start," said Ley, a senior from Johannesburg, South Africa, who is also 4-1 in both singles and doubles play. "A lot of that’s because this team’s like a tight-knit family, and that takes time to develop and it’s important to develop. I’m in my third spring and there’s three of us who have been here, and we’re all a little older and a little wiser."

They’ve also been a little more successful this semester. In fact, a win Saturday over the Owls would likely put the Cajuns in line for no worse than an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament in May, according to coach Justin McGrath.

"Rice will be a Top 25 team by the time the season ends," McGrath said. "It’s a very important match for us, because it helps if you can get national-type wins. It keeps you from the pressure of having to win the conference tournament."

UL got an at-large NCAA berth in Ley’s junior season, but he expects more this year.

"The way this team’s set up," he said, "we’re achieving personal goals and team goals at the same time. If we take care of the personal goals, work hard and maintain those good relationships, the rest will take care of itself."

Ley had an 11-12 singles record last year, but credits mental rather than physical efforts with his improvement.

"I’m at a level now that there’s not much technical improvement you can make," he said. "Where the improvement comes is the mental aspect. It’s not about the technical aspect in matches, but more about where I’m hitting, where is the game plan and where is the strategy in order to beat whoever I’m playing."

And, so far this year, he hasn’t had late-match letdowns, something that happened too often over his first two seasons.

"Sometimes I’ve tended to hang back," Ley said, "and what I’m doing now is taking those opportunities to really push through. That’s been a tough thing to do, but now when I’m up I know I have to take it from the other guy."

Ley was used to high-level tennis before he got to UL, having played for South Africa in the 2003 World Student Games and winning the national SASSU university title.

"It’s a whole experience," he said. "It’s not just on court. You have to get used to the surroundings, the people, the language, the traveling.”

Right now we’re probably playing the most tennis we’ll ever play in our lives with the intensity that we’re practicing, so it’s important to strike a balance."


Cajuns host No. 40 Rice

UL takes a No. 33 national ranking into Saturday’s 1 p.m. match against No. 40 Rice, and will be facing a fellow nationally-ranked unit for the fourth straight match.

The Cajuns (4-1) have wins over Florida State and Oregon sandwiched around a 6-1 loss at sixth-ranked Ole Miss in their last three outings. UL will be playing its first match since topping Oregon 7-0 last Saturday.

"I think I scheduled right this year," said Cajun coach Justin McGrath. "I’ve always believed you need as much preparation as possible before each match when you’re playing good competition. And Rice is one of the biggest matches we’ll play all season."

Fans are invited for free jambalaya next to Cajun Courts prior to the match. There is no charge for admission.

Originally published February 17, 2006