Tennis Tigers Make Auburn History

Auburn's men's tennis team received very good news from the NCAA on Thursday.

Auburn, Ala.--For the first time in school history, Auburn will be the host for an opening round men's NCAA Tennis Tournament Regional.

On Thursday, Coach Eric Shore's Tigers received their eighth NCAA Tournament bid in the past nine seasons. The Tigers also received additional good news about winning a bid to be a host site. The Tigers were awarded a 12 seed and homecourt advantage at the Luther Young Tennis Center for one of 16 four-team regionals.

The women's tennis team received good news, too, with an NCAA bid as a two-seed in Nashville, Tenn.

The AU men will open play on Saturday, May 11 at 2 p.m. at the Luther Young Tennis Center vs. 17-7 East Tennessee State. The winner of that match will play the winner of 10-11 Mississippi State and 15-8 South Alabama match that starts at 11 a.m. The winners of those two matches on Saturday will play at noon on Sunday for the right to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 competition at Texas A&M on May 18-21.

Tickets for the NCAA regional will be available on the day of the event with adult admission $5 while student tickets will be $3.

Shore's Tigers, 17-7, were ranked 13th nationally after finishing the SEC Tournament as runnerup to Tennessee.

"It is exciting that we were selected to host," Shore says. "This is what we have worked so hard for this year and it has been a goal that was set up the past two years. Hosting the regional is our best shot at getting to the final 16 and that is where we want to be."

"I am very happy that we are hosting," says senior Tiago Ruffoni, who also received an invitation to play in the national competition May 22-26 at Texas A&M in doubles. "I am graduating the same day at the same time we play, but it is very exciting to be playing at home in front of our fans. Hopefully, we can get a few big wins."

Ruffoni is ranked 13th nationally in doubles with teammate Rameez Junaid, a sophomore who was invited to nationals as singles player with his ranking of 21. Ruffoni, who is ranked 50th in singles, is an alternate in the NCAA singles competition. Andrew Colombo and senior Mark Kovacs, who are ranked 27th nationally in doubles, will also compete in the NCAA Tournament at Texas A&M.

"We really want to get people to come out to the tournament," Junaid says. "That is the reason you work to host--that is the advantage. The first thing to concentrate on is how well the team does and then it will be time to focus on individual goals."

Rameez Junaid is Auburn's top singles player this season.

Kovacs says, "This is what we have worked so hard for all year. We are really looking forward to the community support at the tournament. Our aim is to win NCAAs as a team and as long as the team does well, we don't have to worry about us as individuals."

Colombo, a freshman with a huge serve and volley game, says, "Hosting really helps our seniors because of graduation being on the same day, so it is good for them."

Andrew Colombo has been an impact performer in singles and doubles as a freshman.

Auburn's best NCAA performance came in 1984 when Coach Hugh Thomson's SEC Champions reached the national quarter-finals before losing 5-2 to UCLA in a best five-of-nine matches format. That team featured All-Americans Dan Cassidy and Barry Moir and was strong up and down the lineup. The scoring system and NCAA competition has changed since then. College matches are the best four-out-of-seven points with just one point awarded for the team that wins two of the three doubles matches. Then six singles matches are played with the winner of each scoring a point for his or her team.

The women's tennis team also received a bid to the NCAA Tournament and will play in a regional at Vanderbilt. The 29th-ranked Tigers will play 42nd-ranked Indiana in the opener on May 11th in Nashville. If AU wins, the Tigers will likely face host Vandy, the regional top seed which is ranked sixth nationally. The Lady Commodores open play vs. Murray State.

AU posted a 14-8 overall mark and was 6-5 in the SEC, a major jump after going just 3-17 the previous season. "It is a great accomplishment for our program, especially coming back from the season last year," Coach Troy Porco says. AU's last trip to the NCAAs was in 1999.

Auburn's No. 1 doubles team of Carolina Maurer and Katia Illarionova is an alternate for the draw of the individual competition at the NCAA Women's Championships in Palo Alto, Calif.

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