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Tennis: Ley looks to ’88 team for inspiration in NCAA tourney

Tennis: Ley looks to ’88 team for inspiration in NCAA tourney

Tennis: Ley looks to ’88 team for inspiration in NCAA tourney

Dan McDonald

When Robin Ley starts thinking about the University of Louisiana’s upcoming appearance in the NCAA Men’s Tennis Championships, he can’t help but remember a meeting he and his teammates had during the fall.
This year’s team had a chance to get together with the Cajuns’ 1988 squad, one that was ranked 15th nationally and made its fair share of noise in the NCAA Tournament when that event was limited to only 16 teams.

"I kept thinking about them and how much they inspired us," Ley said. "They were competing against the best teams in the country, much bigger schools. That’s kind of how we feel right now. I hope we can do something like they did."

Ley and the 35th-ranked Cajuns will have that chance this weekend when they open play in the NCAA’s against Rice at the University of Texas courts in Austin, Texas. Third-seeded UL (16-6) meets the second-seeded Owls (18-7) in the first-round of the four-team regional Saturday at 3 p.m., following top-seeded Texas meeting Tennessee Tech in a 1 p.m. opening match.
Since that 1988 squad grabbed its national notice, the NCAA has gone from a one-site event to regional competition, and the field has expanded to 64 teams playing at 16 regionals. The 16 regional winners advance to Palo Alto, Calif., for the final rounds of competition.

Ley, a product of Johannesburg, South Africa, said that’s the goal for his squad.

"We’re very confident after the Sun Belt tournament," Ley said. "We won two huge matches there, and I think that was a good stepping stone for us."

The Cajuns took clutch 4-3 wins over South Alabama and defending champion Middle Tennessee in the Sun Belt semifinals and finals to earn the league’s automatic berth. UL would likely have made the field as an at-large selection, just like they did in 2005, but such a berth is never a sure thing.

And Ley said that last year’s experience, when the Cajuns lost in the first round to Tulane in Baton Rouge, has helped this year’s team.

"It’s really difficult to break out and play at the top level when it’s your first time," he said. "Now we know what we’re up against. We know what’s out there and we trust ourselves a lot more.

"At this point, it’s all mental, all emotional. That’s where we’re a different team than last year."

The Cajuns will go into this year’s meet with five returning lettermen in the singles lineup including the 6-foot-4 senior Ley in the No. 3 position. He and junior Shaun Ellison will also team in the No. 2 doubles match against a Rice squad that was scheduled to play in Lafayette earlier this year before weather forced postponement and eventual cancellation.

"They’re a very good team," Ley said, "but we owe them. The first semester I was here we were playing them and we had weather problems over there (in Houston) and had to move indoors. They beat us there in a close match, and since then we haven’t had a chance at them. This is a great opportunity for us."

"I don’t have to worry about Robin, or really any of our guys, being ready to play," said UL coach Justin McGrath. "They’re not a big rah-rah team. You can get too high and not be able to play. We try to stay relaxed and loose, and Robin’s one of the best at that."

In contrast to regular-season matches and even the Sun Belt tournament, Ley already knows exactly who he’s going to be playing. NCAA rules require teams to turn in lineups upon selection to the field, and Ley will go up against Germany’s Ralph Knupfer in his singles match.

But that information wasn’t key to Ley’s preparation.

"For me it’s not a big help," he said. "I still look for an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and a little advance preparation helps. But I’m still going to play my game … trying to close to the net and take the ball early, use my game to expose my opponent’s weaknesses. I’m not going to change how I play.

"I don’t think we’re going to change as a team, either. Most of us have played internationally and we’ve played in a lot of big matches. We’ve got some real leaders on this team, and now we just have to draw on that experience."


NCAA Tennis Championships

Austin Regional

At Penick-Allison Tennis Center, UT campus, Austin, Texas

Saturday’s Schedule

No. 1 Texas (22-3) vs. No. 4 Tennessee Tech (13-11), noon

No. 2 Rice (18-7) vs. No. 3 Louisiana (16-6), 3 p.m.

Sunday’s Schedule

Regional championship match, 1 p.m.

Winner advances to NCAA Championship round of 16,

Saturday, May 20,

Palo Alto, Calif.

Originally published May 11, 2006