Reporting Nate Griffin
HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The accent of Rice Owls women’s tennis player Natalie Beazant is immediately recognized as one other than that of a person born and reared in the United States. It’s definitely British and with an air of humility, totally atypical of the style in which Beazant plays the game.
One would expect Beazant to have a more commanding voice and demeanor generally typical of players who have experienced her on-court success. But, that’s just not the case with the 5’3.5” inch run-every-ball-down freshman from Manchester, England.
“I was about 3 and half and my dad had always been fascinated with tennis,” says Beazant. “He never played it or anything – neither did my mom. But basically, we started playing in the backyard and one thing led to another.”
That one thing led to Beazant and family taking the game a little more seriously.
“I started going once a week to the group thing at about like 4-4 and a half and then I started taking it seriously at 7 or 8 which is still really young. I decided I wanted to go with it full time there.”
BEAZT ON THE COURT
Fast forward to today and Beazant has played extremely well at the collegiate level. She won 23 of 24 matches during the season. As a result, she was selected Rice Freshman of the Year with the 23-1 record which includes a 20-1 mark as the number 1 singles player.
“It’s definitely pretty cool,” says Beazant. “Obviously, I feel great about winning the awards. I’m not complaining for one minute. It really is an honor and I’m really happy with them.”
But what was even more amazing about Beazant is that she won her last 15 singles matches and was 7-1 against ranked opponents – as a freshman. She’s had great finishes and great moments.
According to Head Coach Elizabeth Schmidt,
the shining moment of the season for Beazant and Owls Women’s team came on March 4, 2012 when they upset 26th ranked South Florida at Jake Hess 4-3. Beazant’s match would determine the final result as she took the court against USF’s Ecaterina Vasenina.
“It was the USF match”, says Schmidt. “She’s too humble to say it. But the match came down to her match. It was 3-all and she was the deciding match for the upset. So, she wouldn’t tell you that. But I’ll tell you that. It was exciting to see her be able to do that.”
Beazant would win in three sets to help Rice to the 4-3 upset.
ALL NEW TERRITORY
This is the first time in Beazant’s career that she’s played team tennis. Generally speaking, tennis players growing up in the United States play on their junior high and high school teams in addition to playing on the USTA junior circuit unless some decide to turn professional. She played team soccer for a short time, but no other team sport.
“I feel like that’s definitely helped me to play better this season because they’ve like made me believe in myself the whole time. I think they sometimes like give me a belief that I didn’t have before. So, that definitely does help out.”
Having grown up in England, she played singles-only in the Lawn Tennis Association until 11 and moved to the U.S. to attend the IMG Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
She parted ways with the academy at age 15 to team up with an individual coach. Beazant had other ideas about her tennis future until she met Coach Elizabeth Schmidt.
“I had no idea about the whole college recruiting process,” says Beazant. “I’m not going to lie. I had never even considered it until – it was pretty late when I considered it. I had no idea about the college process. It was all new to me.”
Deciding on whether or not to turn pro somewhat muddied the waters for Beazant.
“It’s not an easy lifestyle at all and I’m sure Elizabeth knows this. I’m a person that likes to be around people and I like a lot of family and friends around me. So, for me that aspect of it was pretty difficult. So, for me, I’m not sure if I could do that week-in, week-out.”
According to Beazant, she made the right decision to attend Rice University instead.
NCAA BID – A DONE DEAL
Schmidt, Beazant, and team will play in the post-season after they were awarded the opportunity by the NCAA Selection Committee to compete in the NCAA Tournament. The selection show was held Tuesday afternoon and the Women’s team is encouraged after their Top-40 season finish. They will face Illinois in the first round of the tournament in Oxford, Mississippi.
“It’s been a fun year. It’s been a special year,” says Schmidt. “But, it all has to do with the players on our team. They come to practice and they come to matches every day with a passion. The chemistry is very good and they fight for every point. They fight for each other. They fight for their school.”
Earlier in the season, the Owls were ranked 27th which was the best in program history. They are currently ranked 39th. Back on March 19th the Owls lost to #29 Illinois 5-1at Jake Hess. However, Schmidt knows that she has team that will make the necessary adjustments as they prepare to compete in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a really neat group of young women and I’m excited for them for what we’ve done this season and hope we get to do more in the NCAA Tournament.”