Kansas tennis is riding the hot hand right now.
Coming off a thrilling Big 12 tournament championship last weekend, the Jayhawks were given an automatic bid and the No. 14 seed in the NCAA tournament Monday night. This is the fourth-straight trip to the NCAA tournament, but this will be the first time they’ve hosted tournament matches since 1997.
And that’s key here, as the Jayhawks are 14-0 at home this season, anchored by veteran leadership and a newfound clutch gene. Look no further than junior Maria Toran Ribes, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Big 12 tournament after coming up big in the semifinal and championship rounds of the tournament. Her winning points sealed the team's victories against Oklahoma State and Texas.
But all season, Kansas has made a name for itself on the national scale, sitting at 19-4 on the season. The Jayhawks have been ranked as high as No. 7 in the ITA poll, and have been ranked in the top-20 for 14-straight weeks.
Seniors Janet Koch and Nina Khmelnitckaia are the No. 3-ranked doubles pair in the nation, and were ranked No. 1 earlier in the season.
There have been jokes that Kansas is now a “tennis school,” and while it’s funny to think about given the history of the men’s basketball program, there’s merit to being excited about what’s going on at the Jayhawk Tennis Center.
“I remember when we were All-Americans for the first time and no one even knew what Kansas was and all of a sudden our senior year and everyone is coming to us like, ‘Oh Kansas is a really big school,’ and it gives us a lot of confidence, because people actually know us now,” senior Anastasia Rychagova told the Kansan on Monday.
Rychagova, who is currently ranked No. 17 in the nation in singles, has also been a key piece to the puzzle for this Kansas team.
But what Rychagova is alluding to — respect on a national scale — is becoming more and more apparent with each match. The Jayhawks have played 15 matches against schools who have been ranked in the ITA poll at some point this season (Northwestern, Illinois, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, TCU, Baylor, Arkansas, Air Force, Tulsa, Rice and Wichita State).
Even with that regular season success, though, Kansas is looking to make noise in the postseason against a familiar foe in Denver, the No. 47-ranked team in the NCAA tournament. This will be the second-straight year these two have faced off, with the Jayhawks prevailing 4-3 in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament.
“[Denver has] a lot of players returning from last year's team, and so do we,” Kansas coach Todd Chapman said in a Kansas Athletics press release. “It will be a matchup both teams are familiar with; we know we will have our hands full and it will be a great test."
Kansas will host Denver in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, May 3 at 1 p.m. The winner of that match will face the winner of No. 23 Florida and No. 42 Boston College on Sunday, May 5.