NCAA Automatic Bids Up For Grabs at Conference Championships

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Middle Tennessee Men's Tennis
For the first time in Middle Tennessee tennis history, the Blue Raiders take home the Conference USA. (Photo courtesy of Middle Tennessee State University Athletics)

TEMPE, AZ – Valuable automatic bids for the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships have already been handed out, with more to come in the coming days as the conference championship season heats up.

For the first time in Middle Tennessee State University men’s tennis history, the Blue Raiders spent their Easter Sunday celebrating as they took home the Conference USA title in a come-from-behind dramatic win over Florida Atlantic University. Freshman Pavel Motl’s third-set win clinched the match, 4-3, as the Blue Raiders earned an NCAA berth for the first time since winning the Sun Belt Conference title in 2012.

The host Rice University women’s tennis team won its sixth Conference USA title in the last seven years with a 4-2 win over Old Dominion at the George R. Brown Tennis Center in Houston. The win propels the Owls to their eighth consecutive NCAA Women’s Tennis Championship appearance. Rice’s seven conference titles are the most of any school in Conference USA women’s tennis history.

“There was so much emotion, it was like a roller coaster the whole match,” said Rice sophomore Michaela Haet, who clinched the title with her singles win. “I wanted it so badly for the team. It was such a good feeling to get the win.”

The No. 20-ranked Kansas University women’s team claimed its first-ever Big 12 Championship beating No. 7 Texas, 4-2, before 400 hometown fans at the Jayhawk Tennis Center at Rock Chalk Park. KU’s Maria Toran Ribes provided the clinching match at No. 6 as she overcame an 0-3 deficit to secure the Jayhawks’ first conference championship since they won the last Big 8 Championship in 1996.

No. 20-ranked Kansas tennis claimed its first-ever Big 12 Championship. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Athletics)

“The exciting thing is we have a lot of tennis left to play,” Kansas women’s coach Todd Chapman said. “It was a huge accomplishment to make it to the Big 12 Championship final, and we are not settling after winning the Championship. We believe this team is built for more than that, we have prepared for more than that. I think our players see that and now know how good they are. It is exciting for the moment and it is exciting for the next few weeks as well.”

All the conference winning teams will find out their NCAA tournament opponent, location and dates on April 29 at 5:30 p.m. ET during the official NCAA tennis selection show. The NCAA Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships will be held for the first time at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., May 16-25.

A total of 30 valuable automatic bids are being handed out on the men’s side, and 31 on the women’s side.

Last week, Grant Chen finished up his first year as head coach for the Southern Methodist University men’s team, which lost in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals to No. 1-seed UCF.

The Mustangs finished the season with a 12-17 mark in the first season under Chen, a three-win improvement from last season.

“I really think the conference championships are much more than just an automatic bid into the NCAAs,” Chen said. “It allows all the teams to be together in one location for the first time all year, and there are not many single-elimination events like it. It’s really a warm-up or a prelude to the NCAAs. It’s all about survive and advance. It really is a special week on the calendar.”

Chen said his Mustangs traveled together with the women’s team, stayed at the same hotel and cheered each other on during matches. “It really is the ultimate ticket into the NCAAs, but it’s so much more than that.”

This week, Chen will be returning back to The Ojai Tennis Tournament and venerable Libbey Park, the longtime site of the Pac-12 Championships, and watching two SMU recruits and also scouting the junior events. A former team manager at UCLA, Chen worked his way all the way up to associate coach under Bruins’ head coach Billy Martin. Chen hasn’t missed an Ojai tournament since 1995 when he first played in the tournament as a 12-year-old junior from Santa Barbara.

The UCLA men won the team title over USC last season at The Ojai, and the Stanford women captured their second conference team title since the tournament went to the dual-match team format in 2017.

Martin is one of several Pac-12 coaches that played at The Ojai in college, as did Washington’s Matt Anger, Cal’s Peter Wright, USC’s Peter Smith and Stanford’s Paul Goldstein.

“The beautiful trees, the tea, the orange juice, it can’t be replicated too many places,” Martin said last year about The Ojai. “Maybe Wimbledon with its strawberries and cream.”

Other men’s tournament and sites coming up this week include Atlantic 10 (April 25-28; Lake Nona, Fla.); Big Sky (April 25-27, Phoenix); Big Ten (April 25-28, Ann Arbor, Mich.); Big West (April 25-28, Indian Wells, Calif.); Horizon (April 26-28, West Lafayette, Ind.); MAAC (April 27-28, West Windsor, N.J.); MEAC (April 27-28, Norfolk, Va.); Mountain West (April 25-27, Fresno, Calif.); Ohio Valley (April 26-28, Nashville, Tenn.); Pac-12 (April 24-27, Ojai, Calif.); Southland (April 26-27, Corpus Christi, Texas); Summit (April 26-27, Tulsa, Okla.); WAC (April 26-28, Brownsville, Texas); WCC (April 25-27, Claremont, Calif.)

Other women’s tournament and sites coming up this week include Atlantic 10 (April 24-27; Lake Nona, Fla.); Big Sky (April 25-27, Phoenix); Big Ten (April 25-28, Lincoln, Neb.); Big West (April 25-28, Indian Wells, Calif.); Horizon (April 26-28, West Lafayette, Ind.); MMAC (April 27-28, West Windsor, N.J.); MEAC (April 27-28, Norfolk, Va.); Mid-American (April 26-28, Buffalo, N.Y.); Missouri Valley (April 26-28, Cedar Rapids, Iowa); Mountain West (April 24-27, San Diego, Calif.); Ohio Valley (April 26-28, Nashville, Tenn.); Pac-12 (April 24-27, Ojai, Calif.); Patriot (April 25-28, Lewisburg, Pa.); Southland (April 25-27, Corpus Christi, Texas); Summit (April 26-27, Tulsa, Okla.); WAC (April 26-28, Brownsville, Texas); WCC (April 25-27, Claremont, Calif.)

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