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After 17-year absence, men’s tennis returns to NCAA tournament

While third-year head coach Billy Pate is no stranger to the NCAA tournament, when his team squares off in Charlottesville, Va., on Fridayagainst the University of Minnesota in opening round play, the Tigers will break a drought 17 years in the making. The No. 36 Tigers (19-7, 4-3 Ivy League) will battle the No. 25 Golden Gophers (20-7, 10-1 Big Ten) at10 a.m. in Princeton’s first return to the national tournament since 1998.

“This is something we’ve been building towards since the day we arrived three years ago,” Pate said in an interview on the Ivy League Digital Network, after watching the selection show with his team. Pate, who led Alabama to seven NCAA tournament appearances in his 10 years at the helm from 2003-2012, will bring crucial postseason experience to a team that lacks it. And standing in between the Tigers and a trip to the next stage of the tournament — the Sweet Sixteen — which Pate reached twice in his time at Alabama (2003, 2007), is an impressive opponent.

The opening round matchup in the single-elimination tournament will pit the Tigers against theGolden Gophersfor the first time since 2002. Minnesota enters as the favorite, though by a slim margin. Minnesota feature two nationally ranked singles players: Leandro Toledo (25) and Matic Spec (57), who will match up against All-Ivy selections senior Zack McCourt (first team) and sophomore Tom Colautti (second team) on the first two singles courts. McCourt, for his part, is also ranked nationally, entering play at No. 79. The McCourt/Colautti combination will also figure in the doubles competition, as the duo, ranked No. 48 in the nation, match up against Minnesota’s 56thranked pair Mathieu Froment and Jack Hamburg.

While Minnesota’s strong team and impressive record might seem daunting, the Tigers’ strength of schedule has left them unfazed. The team faced 17 ranked opponents over the course of the season, six of which compete in the Ivy League. Pate called this season a “banner year” for the conference, saying that the “tremendous” depth of the league helped his team develop. No. 34 Harvard and No. 17 Columbia join Princeton as the other two representatives to the national tournament from the Ivy League. Against a strong Golden Gopher team, prior experience against deep, talented teams could be a crucial factor.

Should Princeton beat Minnesotaon Friday, the Tigers would face offon Saturdayagainst the winner of the matchup between No. 5 Virginia (23-3, 12-0 ACC) and St. John’s University (15-8)on Saturdayat3 p.m.

Women set to make second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance

A year removed from its first postseason victory, a 4-2 win over Arizona State, No. 43 Princeton (12-8, 6-1 Ivy League) will return to the tournament this weekend in Charlottesville, Va., to take on No. 30 South Carolina (14-10, 6-7 SEC) on Saturday at9 a.m.

With the tournament berth, head coach Lauren Granville becomes the first coach in Princeton’s history to lead her squad to consecutive NCAA tournaments. The third-year head coach will lead her Tiger team with some new hardware, as Granville became the inaugural recipient of the Ivy League Coach of the Year award this spring after guiding the Tigers to an outright Ivy League Championship.

After watching the selection show, in an interview on the Ivy League Digital Network, Granville echoed the visible enthusiasm of her team, saying, “We’re excited. We’re ready to go.” She also pointed toward her team’s experience last season in the NCAA tournament as an important factor in their preparation for this weekend’s events. “I think it will be a really big help … I think it’s going to be huge for [the women],” the Chicago native said. “They will just be … a little bit more comfortable playing this year.”

If the Tigers are to advance past the Gamecocks, they will need their three All-Ivy selections to play at the top of their games. Senior Lindsay Graff, a unanimous first team selection and the 2014 Ivy League Player of the Year, will play a prominent role in the action, playing at Princeton’s first singles and first doubles positions. Graff and her doubles partner, sophomore Alanna Wolff, were also selected as a unanimous All-Ivy pairing. Amanda Muliawan, a second-team All-Ivy selection, joins Graff and Wolff at the top of the Tigers lineup.

On the other side of the ledger, the Gamecocks boast some talent with national pedigree. Elixane Lechemia (43) and Caroline Dailey (123) both figure into the ITA national rankings for singles. Three different doubles pairings — Hadley Berg and Caroline Dailey (41), Meghan Blevins and Brigit Folland (61), and Berg and Lechemia (81) — all enter play with a national ranking, demonstrating the extent of the depth of the Gamecocks.

Waiting for the Tigers if they should advance would be the victor of the battle between No. 10 Virginia (21-5, 11-3 ACC) and VCU (16-8). A bout against host Virginia would be a rematch of the 2010 NCAA opening round matchup, which the Cavaliers narrowly won 4-3. The Round-of-32 matches will begin atnoon on Sunday.

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