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NCAA Tournament draw presents 'interesting' matchups for men's tennis

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Junior Eric Quigley owns a 43-11 record this year for the men's tennis team as it heads into the NCAA Tournament. (UK Athletics) Junior Eric Quigley owns a 43-11 record this year for the men's tennis team as it heads into the NCAA Tournament. (UK Athletics)
Video: Emery believes experience could spell NCAA run | Balance, depth bolster this year's team

There's a chance - and a good one at that - that one or both the Kentucky men's tennis team and Louisville fail to make it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, which will be hosted at UK's Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex, starting with the first round Friday.

But should UK take care of business against Cleveland State for the third straight season, and if Louisville defeats Cornell, it will renew a rivalry in the second round of the tournament that hasn't been played since 2005.

UK and Louisville go way back in men's and women's basketball, football, baseball, etc., but, oddly enough, the two rivals have not played each other in tennis in six seasons.

What was once a highly competitive rivalry that bordered on nasty in the early 2000s (historically UK has dominated the rivalry, posting a 41-3-1 all-time record) was mutually ended by both teams after the 2005 season.

When Louisville popped up on the opposite side of Kentucky in the first- and second-round regional, head coach Dennis Emery didn't think anything of it other than the benefits that could come out of playing the program's chief in-state competitor.

"I was kind of excited from the standpoint that we haven't gotten to play them and it's somebody different," Emery said Wednesday. "It is kind of a neat deal. The thing I like about it is I think we are going to get a lot of coverage and get a lot of people out here. It is a chance for us to really showcase our program."

If things work out and the two schools face off Saturday in the second round, a large contingent of what should be a huge crowd at the Boone Complex will be made up of Eric Quigley's family.

As a native of Peewee Valley, Ky., which is just a short 15-minute drive to the Louisville metropolitan area, and as the top high school player in the state of Kentucky, Quigley received an offer to attend Louisville and strongly considered joining the rebuilding effort Rex Ecarma was putting together at Louisville.

Quigley ultimately chose Kentucky, where he headlines the nation's 10th-seeded team and as the country's sixth-ranked player in the country.

"It was one of my big options but I think I needed to get away a little bit," Quigley said. "I just thought this was a little better fit."

Of course, being so close to Louisville means the Quigleys have a little bit of U of L red in them. Quigley, who owns a 116-35 collegiate record, said his family's ties between Kentucky and Louisville are split right down the middle.

Asked what color he expects most of them to wear Saturday if fate comes through, Quigley hopes his family will stay loyally blue.

"It'll be interesting," Quigley said, "if it happens."

Quigley and Emery were both quick to caution from looking past Friday's Cleveland State match at 3 p.m.

Although UK has defeated Cleveland State three times in the last three seasons, including twice in the NCAA Tournament, a closer look at this year's regular-season match shows that advancing is far from a sure thing for Kentucky.

In UK's 6-1 win in mid-February, two of the Wildcats' points came in three-set thrillers. On court one, where Quigley has dominated opponents to a 43-11 record, Quigley needed every shot in a 6-4, 7-5 win.

Interestingly, despite being the favorite in the region, Kentucky is the only one of the four teams in the Lexington region that didn't win its conference championship. Louisville captured the Big East crown, Cornell claimed the Ivy League title and UK's first-round opponent, Cleveland State, captured the Horizon League championship for the fourth straight year.

"We had such a close match with Cleveland State," Emery said. "I think if we just wore out Cleveland State, there would be some concern (of looking ahead). We played them a great match and they played us very tight at one, two and three (in singles). We played a different player at No. 4 and he lost that match. I think our guys understand we have a real challenge ahead in Cleveland State."

Even if an attractive matchup with Louisville lies ahead, Emery believes Cleveland State is all the motivation his team needs from from looking ahead.

"We have a veteran team and I just don't see them doing it," Emery said. "They have too much experience to be that dumb."

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