TENNIS : Orange needs strong final weekend of regular season to stay in NCAA tournament hunt

first_img Comments Luke Jensen admits his Syracuse team is sitting squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble right now. With a No. 57 national ranking, the Orange knows there is still work to do before it can achieve its season-long goal.The Big East tournament next weekend is Syracuse’s last chance to make a statement. Despite racking up some quality wins this year, SU’s weak schedule overall leaves its tournament status in doubt.‘In our sport’s culture, the whole goal is to get to the tournament,’ Jensen said. ‘You need a schedule that reflects that. It’s the game within the game.’But before the Orange competes in the conference tournament, it must finish the regular season strong this weekend against Georgetown and Seton Hall. The Orange was ranked No. 39 in late February, but fell as it took on and dominated lower-level competition, winning its last four matches by a combined 27-1.Jensen and SU know winning next weekend’s Big East tournament in Tampa, Fla., is the only way to secure the ultimate goal of a tournament bid. Jensen said the team remains focused on winning to move closer to that goal rather than the tournament bubble.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text‘They’ve always been focused on the next match,’ Jensen said. ‘There are no motivation issues, and we’ve just got to point our energy in the right direction.’But the Orange players feel the team is good enough to earn an at-large bid. The team just hasn’t had a chance to prove itself against quality opponents.Teams are hesitant to schedule Syracuse – a program still far from elite in college tennis – because they know even a dominating win could bring them down in the rankings. It’s a frustrating cycle for the Orange. Syracuse can’t improve its reputation without beating quality teams, but quality teams are less likely to schedule the Orange with its current status.That makes Syracuse’s matchups with top programs even more important.‘We’ve got to take advantage of the nationally ranked teams,’ Jensen said. ‘We’re an us-versus-the-world type of team, and we’re the little guy. We have to take the anger and frustration out on the court.’On the court, Syracuse has taken advantage of its opportunities against top teams this year. The Orange has defeated ranked teams in Boston College, Harvard and Yale.Senior captain Emily Harman has seen her team receive more respect, slowly but surely, over her years at Syracuse.But Harman has never made the NCAA tournament. She feels this team is capable of providing that final achievement, due in part to an increased confidence level stemming from this year’s respectable level of competition compared to prior years.‘Our belief comes from some of our biggest wins coming this year,’ Harman said. ‘In the past it was all over the place with belief, but we’re more mentally prepared and confident now. I believe in myself and this team 110 percent.’Harman said she and her teammates want the tournament berth badly.‘We’re all on the same page, and we all want it just as much,’ Harman said. ‘I believe in every one of these girls, and I know they’ll all do everything they can.’Harman feels every Syracuse team she has played on was capable of winning in Tampa, but the team just didn’t play well enough when it mattered. A Big East championship has always been the goal, and this year Harman feels the team is ready to accomplish it.The Orange is now practicing consistently outside at Skytop, as opposed to indoors at the Drumlins Tennis Center. All remaining matches will be contested outdoors, and the final push for the NCAA tournament begins this weekend against Seton Hall and Georgetown.Jensen knows his team is good enough. It’s just a matter of showing it.‘If we don’t play well, we can lose,’ Jensen said. ‘But if we play well, we won’t lose.’[email protected] Published on April 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact Kevin: [email protected]center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img