Fans gathered Monday at Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux to learn who the men’s tennis team (16-7, 5-0) would be facing in its first NCAA Tournament since 2016, following its Western Athletic Conference championship win.
With players, coaches and supporters crowding the restaurant and eyes glued to the televisions, the NCAA announced the matchup: UTA vs No. 2 Texas Christian University. When the crowd saw UT Arlington pop up on the screen, cheers filled the venue.
“We've been waiting for so long for this moment, already many, many years,” head coach Diego Benitez said. “So to see us out there with all the top teams, it’s so amazing.”
The match will be at 5 p.m. Friday. The Horned Frogs earned the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament, so they’ll host the regional. UTA and TCU played March 3, with the Mavericks losing 7-0.
Benitez said TCU is one of the best teams in the nation, but his team is ready for the moment. Since the teams have already played this season, he said the Mavericks know their opponent well.
Sophomore Anton Shepp said it was special to see UTA’s name on the big screen, and the crowd at Walk-On’s made it a cool moment for the school. Shepp has spent most of this season on the No. 1 line for the Mavericks, winning 14 of 20 matches on the top line.
UTA was the second-to-last school out of 64 to be named in the NCAA’s selection show. As the show ran on, the team tried to guess where it might be placed, leading to lots of cheers and groans. “It’s a bonding experience if you've ever seen one,” Shepp said. “You don't know, you don't know, you don’t know and then you see your name up there. It's like, ‘Ah, there it is.’”
. @UTAMavsMTEN will play TCU in the first round of the NCAA tournament. the team’s reaction when UTA was announced⬇️— isaac (@isaacappelt) May 1, 2023
Shepp was on the No. 1 line for the Mavericks’ matchup with the Horned Frogs earlier this season and lost his match, 6-2, 6-2. He said the team knows what it’s up against and while it struggled in March, the team knows what to expect going forward, which could be an advantage for UTA.
“We can look at the film from those matches and study up a bit and see exactly what we need to do, which is pretty cool,” he said.
Debbie Garcia, executive senior associate Athletics director, said the team and coaching staff are getting the recognition they deserve. She also said it means a lot from a university standpoint to have an athletics team representing UTA at an NCAA Tournament.
“We're sports fans, we're in the grind of it all the time, and so we experience it every single day, the kind of the up and down emotion,” she said. “But it's exciting to bring in a new group of fans when the stakes are a little bit higher.”
Out of all the top-16 seeds, where the first two rounds of the tournaments will be hosted, TCU was the closest to UTA’s campus. With the match being so close, Benitez expects the team’s supporters to show out, something they wouldn’t have had the NCAA sent them to a different regional.
“If we went somewhere else, we might not have many people there to come support us,” Shepp said. “So it's going to even out the playing field a little bit. We're going to have a few familiar faces in the crowd, which is very special for us.”
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