It’s a tradition that East Tennessee State tennis coach Yaser Zaatini says he’ll never take for granted.
On Tuesday, for the seventh year in a row, the Bucs gathered to watch as the NCAA tournament brackets were announced.
ETSU will face Vanderbilt in Nashville in the first round on May 10. The Bucs were seeded fourth in a regional that also includes Illinois and Georgia State.
“It doesn’t get old,” Zaatini said during a get-together at the Carnegie Hotel. “My heart is pumping. You never want to take this for granted. You don’t know when it’s gonna end.”
The Bucs (13-6) won the Atlantic Sun Conference championship for the seventh year in a row and are on an eight-match winning streak. They were a little disappointed to be seeded below Georgia State, which is No. 3 in the regional, considering they won the regular-season meeting between the two teams, 4-0.
“We beat them and we were ranked ahead of them in the final rankings,” Zaatini said. “For them to show up above us ... Now, would it make a difference for us to play Illinois or Vanderbilt? Probably not. So I really don’t care.”
Vanderbilt (16-10) finished 6-6 in the tough Southeastern Conference. The Commodores are the 16th overall seed in the tournament.
“They’re a pretty solid team, but we could have drawn some better teams,” said ETSU sophomore Rogerio Ribeiro, the A-Sun tournament’s MVP. “So I think we are very happy with the draw. We are playing a good team and I think we can beat that team. If there’s a good time to beat a sweet 16, this year is a good one.”
This will be the Bucs’ 11th NCAA appearance, and nine have come under Zaatini. They’re 2-10 in previous trips, having beaten No. 2 seeds Alabama in 2010 and Notre Dame in 2008.
“Nashville is my favorite city,” Zaatini said. “I’ll enjoy the fact that the kids know I like it there. We’ve beaten second seeds. Now the theme will be, ‘You know what? Let’s take a first seed down.’ Hopefully we will be strong enough to make a splash.”
Vanderbilt is 13-11 in 11 previous NCAA appearances. This is its fourth consecutive trip.
“We’re gonna try to do our best and come home with a victory,” Ribeiro said. “I think all the guys are excited. Everybody is practicing hard every day.”