A transfer and a full year after sitting out, Lisa-Marie Rioux got her long-awaited victory.
Four Oklahoma State women’s tennis players got their first NCAA tournament victory in OSU’s 4-0 defeat of Central Arkansas on Friday.
Of those four Cowgirls, Bunyawi Thamchaiwat, Tamara Arnold and Catherine Guilihur were making their tournament debuts. They are now heading to the second round match against Miami on Saturday with a perfect postseason record.
Lisa-Marie Rioux also tasted her first victory, but it came in her third experience in the national tournament. As a player of the Mississippi State program her freshman year, Rioux was the first player to be defeated in the Bulldogs’ 4-1 upset loss against Northwestern in the first round of 2017 NCAA tournament.
A relocation to Stillwater forced Rioux to be a mere spectator because of NCAA transfer rules when OSU suffered an upset loss against Tulsa last year. With OSU coach Chris Young opting for the regular doubles lineup for this postseason, Rioux’s singles match against Japanese co-patriot Fuka Nonoyama was her first tournament match as a Cowgirl.
Her patience paid off when Rioux broke Nonoyama’s serve in the final game to score a 6-1, 6-4 victory, which also clinched the Cowgirls’ sweep against the Bears.
“I’m really happy that I clinched,” Rioux said. “I feel like I'm playing more confident here than at Mississippi State. I had to sit out a year later and it wasn’t an easy moment for me. This year, I tried to do my best in every moment in practice, my fitness. I think the result from my sitting year makes me stronger.”
Young, who put Rioux on No. 1 on her debut in the season-opener against top-ranked Duke, said it is a feel-good moment for the Cowgirl.
“It’s nice for Lisa,” Young said. “Every match in the NCAA tournament is important. It’s difficult to win any NCAA tournament matches like you saw tonight. I’m proud of her and happy for her, but also happy for the team and everybody’s contribution."
Rioux’s match against Nonoyama, an opponent she said she has played against several times in Japan, isn’t the only match featuring two international players coming from the same country. On court 4, Thamchaiwat, a sophomore from Thailand, defeated Yada Vasupongchai in straight-sets with both players exchanging friendly gestures after the match.
Young said he was pleased to see how both players handled the emotional aspect.
“That is something that probably sometimes the fans don’t know or don’t always get a look at it,” Young said. “Sometimes these kids, they come from another country and they find a person they grow up playing against all their lives from the other sides. It makes it unique and obviously each player wants to show they are better now in college or in a better program. There is a little emotion for those things into it and I thought Lisa and Bunyawi handled it well. They took care of business.”
For Rioux, Friday's victory tasted a little bit sweeter, as she celebrated her 22nd birthday two days earlier.
“My parents are here,” Rioux said. “This is the first birthday I can celebrate with them for a while. I’m very happy and I think I have good vibes.”