Gold Rush qualify for nationals for third straight season
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The Xavier University of Louisiana men's tennis team followed the clearly defined path Saturday.
The Gold Rush, ranked 11th in the NAIA, defeated 23rd-ranked Martin Methodist 5-2 to earn an automatic bid to the national tournament for the third consecutive year. The qualifying event was for teams whose conferences did not meet requirements for automatic bids.
A loss would've left Xavier (13-9) waiting for an at-large bid to the 24-team event — a strong possibility, considering the Gold Rush's ranking — but after beating Martin Methodist (14-6) for the second time in as many tries this season, Xavier won't be involved with that suspense.
"Our guys came out like men who had families to feed," Coach Alan Green said. "We trusted each other out there and kept our composure throughout the match. When we play like that, we are very tough to beat."
Juniors Zach Taylor, Steffen Giles-Osborn and Sean Richardson won in doubles and singles for the Gold Rush. Taylor, winning for the first time in his last seven singles matches, put Xavier ahead to stay at 3-2 when he beat Renato Castro 6-1, 6-3 at No. 2. Giles-Osborn beat Alvaro Morcillo 6-3, 6-4 at No. 3 to give the Rush a 4-2 lead, and Richardson clinched with his fifth victory in six matches, a 6-3, 6-3 decision against Juan Suarez at No. 5.
Giles-Osborn and Richardson were the only Gold Rush players who were 2-0 in doubles and 2-0 in singles in the two-day, four-team qualifier.
Because of only five available players, Xavier defaulted at No. 3 doubles and No. 6 singles. But the Rush did not drop a set in any of the five completed matches. Taylor and Hassan Abbas, ranked 15th among NAIA doubles teams, improved to 15-7 with an 8-0 victory against Vinicius Santos and Suarez. Giles-Osborn and Richardson teamed for an 8-6 decision against Castro and Fabio Santos. Vinicius Santos was the TranSouth Conference Player of the Year this season, and Fabio Santos and Suarez were all-conference in singles and doubles.
It was the second loss in the last 13 duals for Martin Methodist, which opened its season with a 6-3 loss to Xavier on Feb. 18 in Nashville, Tenn.
"This match seemed a bit easier," Green said. "Martin Methodist played a different doubles lineup, and I think the matchups were favorable to us."
It was Xavier's third victory of the season against a ranked NAIA opponent. The XU men have two additional victories against NAIA teams which were unranked at the time of those matches but were ranked in the most recent poll. Xavier is 7-1 at neutral sites and 4-0 in Tennessee.
Xavier's men never qualified for nationals before 2009, and they won first-round matches in both previous appearances. The NAIA National Championship will start May 17 in Mobile, Ala. Pairings will be announced by 5 p.m. on May 10.
"We look forward to playing the nation's best teams in 95-degree Gulf Coast heat," Green said.