By LANCE BANDLEY
Not even a fast start could help the BYU women’s tennis team Friday, as the Cougars fell apart in the clutch and lost 5-4 to Rice in Provo.
It was the fourth time this season BYU has lost a match by a 5-4 score.
One factor that led to the Cougar loss was Rice’s ability to come back after being down early in the match.
“It was an outstanding effort by the team today,” Rice head coach Paul Blankenship said. “We don’t go away; we kept plugging the whole match.”
Blankenship said he was surprised his team was able to win four of the six singles matches.
“We had different players step in the match,” he said. “I think that is a sign of a good team.”
Blankenship said he would prefer to have won only three of the singles matches because it forces all the doubles teams to play hard and not depend on others to win.
“In doubles we were looking around at each other waiting for someone to win the fifth and deciding match,” he said. “It almost didn’t happen.”
The Cougars jumped out to an early lead, led by No. 1 singles player Gee Gee Garvin, who needed just 40 minutes to take care of Rice’s Elle Lewis 6-0, 6-0.
BYU’s Brooke Leavens, playing in the third spot, grabbed a 5-0 lead in her first set but self-destructed and lost the next seven games, the set and eventually the match (7-5, 6-4).
Playing in the sixth spot, BYU’s Shari Smith easily won her first set 6-1 over Natalie Briaud but lost the next two sets and the match.
Garvin’s match was especially impressive because she was playing with a sore arm.
“Gee Gee has been amazing all week, and today her arm made her play smart,” BYU head coach Clark Barton said. “She hit a high percent of her first serves so she wouldn’t hurt her arm having to make extra serves.”
The Cougars did have a chance to win the match at the end. BYU tied up the match 4-4 after wins by Leavens and Kim Kelly and Jodi Richardson and Smith in doubles.
The deciding match was left up to Garvin and freshman Khushchehr Italia against Rice’s Charlotte Feasy and Briaud.
Garvin and Italia fell behind quickly 6-1, but caught their second wind and tied the score 6-6. But Feasy and Briaud pulled through in the clutch to win 8-6 and give Rice the dual-match win and BYU its second WAC loss of the season.
BYU (3-11, 1-2) will hit the road and challenge WAC opponents Southern Methodist and Texas Christian in Texas this weekend.