Saturday, May 21, 2016

Gold Rush reach national semifinals for first time

MOBILE, Alabama — On its fifth try in as many years, Xavier University of Louisiana men's tennis finally broke the barrier.

The Gold Rush, ranked and seeded third, defeated No. 6 Keiser 5-3 Thursday in the NAIA National Championship to become the first XU men's team in any sport to reach the national semifinals.

Xavier is 16-7, and Keiser finished 20-4.

"We've been playing a lot of tough matches recently," said senior Kyle Montrel, one of two Gold Rush players to win in doubles and singles. "All the guys have been fighting hard. We know we can win. This year we believe it, so we're going for it."

Xavier will play No. 7 Lindsey Wilson, a 5-3 winner against No. 2 Auburn Montgomery, at 1 p.m. Friday. Two-time defending champion Georgia Gwinnett will meet No. 5 Dalton State in the other semifinal at that same time. The championship will start at 1 p.m. Saturday. All matches are at Copeland-Cox Mobile Tennis Center, and admission is free.

Montrel and Karan Salwan scored the first point of the dual when they defeated Martin Martins and Guilherme Cunha 8-1. Montrel made it 4-3 when he defeated Rafael Lenz 6-4, 6-1 on the third singles court.

Xavier's other double winner was freshman Thomas Setodji, who teamed with Kevin Chaouat for an 8-6 victory against Lenz and Shaquille Taylor, then clinched for the second consecutive day — approximately three minutes after Montrel's victory — with his 6-0, 6-4 decision against Martins. Setodji is 16-0 in singles and has clinched half of Xavier's victories and seven of the last 10.

Xavier's other point came from Tushar Mandlekar, who avenged a third-set super-tiebreaker loss to Taylor during the regular season with a 6-1, 6-0 victory on the fifth court. It was his first singles victory since March 22 — between victories there were seven losses and three unfinished matches.

Why the reversal of fortune against Taylor? "I changed racket brands about two weeks ago," said Mandlekar, a junior who is 5-0 in singles in three appearances at nationals. "I'm playing much better since I switched."

In addition to four consecutive quarterfinal losses in tennis, Gold Rush basketball lost in the 1973 quarterfinals. Women's tennis earned Xavier its first semifinal berth in 2013 and reached that round again in 2014.

"I wasn't really thinking about the round, just the opponents we play," 13th-year coach Alan Green said. "It was a tough match with Keiser. It was tougher than when we played them earlier in the season (a 7-2 XU victory), but our guys pulled through."

Ed Cassiere, Sports Information Director

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