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Cowboys head to Big 12 tournament with mountains to climb

OSU MTen vs. No. 1 Texas-4935.jpg

OSU's Matej Vocel looks on during the Oklahoma State vs. No. 1 Texas Big 12 Conference men's tennis match at Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center in Stillwater on Friday, April 12, 2019.

In this conference, everyone beats everyone.

Oklahoma State men’s tennis head coach Jay Udwadia remains confident in a potential deep postseason run for his Cowboys, as long as his players can keep their heads up.

“Everyone beats everyone,” Udwadia said. “Every team is capable of beating any team as you saw in the last couple of weekends. It was maybe four or five years ago that Oklahoma was No. 1 in the country and seeded No. 3 in the conference tournament. That is how good our conference is and you go into the conference tournament knowing that anything can happen.”

Udwadia’s belief isn’t a subjective claim, because it’s a fact. OSU (14-10 overall, 1-4 Big 12) finished last in the conference because of a Texas Tech upset against No. 7 Baylor on the last day of the season. The Cowboys cruised through the Red Raiders in Lubbock, were one point away from upsetting No. 1 Texas, and had an encouraging performance against TCU, OSU's opponent on Friday in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.

With OSU checking in at No. 32 in the ITA rankings, its chance of hosting the regional round of the NCAA tournament, even after potentially winning the Big 12 tournament, is slim at best. Udwadia said he remains confident, though, that his squad can make a big push at the right time.

“As long as our team is ready, we should have confidence knowing that we can beat anyone,” Udwadia said.

As the No. 6 and lowest seed, it is without question OSU is the ultimate underdog of the tournament. Its first hurdle will be against the Horned Frogs, whom it has lost against in both meetings this season.

After a tumultuous start for the doubles department in which the team at one point dropped five doubles point in a row, OSU has shown vast improvements in conference play. The Cowboys picked up doubles victories in the last three matches, while having a match-point opportunity against OU. OSU's biggest downfall of the conference play stems from their inability to hang on to the momentum going into singles play.

Against a TCU side featuring two top-25 singles players in the likes of Alex Rybanov and Alastair Gray, Udwadia knows his players have to be mentally focused. With Artur Dubinski suffering from an injury-plagued season, the Cowboys’ top two singles players are Matej Vocel and Maxim Tybar, who are playing in their first conference tournament of their career.

“We are playing great players,” Udwadia said. “I think you have to stay mentally focused and mentally engaged. Racket skill wise and athletically, we are right there. If we stay with it mentally, we can overcome it and get over those hurdles.”

OSU is a victory away from clinching the 15-win mark on the season, a feat it has never failed to achieve under Udwadia since his first year with the program. Udwadia said his team “turned around” in the weekend against Texas Tech and Baylor, and the players are eager to cap off the season on a high note.

“This will be the fourth top-10 team in a row that we are facing,” Udwadia said. “We need to get over the hump and start winning some of these. Both teams can play well and there will still be a loser. We want to win very badly, but we just want to play well and I think we are mentally engaged and playing well. We are knocking on the door, and the door will open eventually.”