Video: Privateers get auspicious test in first-ever NCAA appearance

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NEW ORLEANS – It had been more than a week since the University of New Orleans had punched its first-ever ticket to the NCAA men’s tennis championship, and Burzis Kanga was still enjoying it all.

Kanga, the former UNO player and longtime head coach, had just learned his team would face defending national champion and No. 2 seed Florida in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday, but it didn’t faze him.

“Enjoy and savor this moment,” Kanga said of the message to his team before heading to the Sunshine State. “Go in and believe what you’re capable of doing.

“This team is capable of doing a lot of good things. They believe in themselves.”

It took two days for the Privateers to win the Southland Conference championship and earn their automatic berth into the NCAAs. A match that started on Sunday at the UNO Tennis Center against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi underwent multiple rain delays, the last of which postponed the finish until Monday, when UNO rallied for a 4-3 victory.

“I think there were so many moments,” Kanga said. “This is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for. I told them to execute their game plan and let everything fall into place.”

Kanga is one of the few remaining staff members from a time in late 2009 and 2010 when the Privateer athletic program was seemingly headed out of Division I, but a change of course led UNO back on solid footing and into the Southland Conference, its home for the last decade. And like everyone else in New Orleans, it has had to deal with battling back from COVID-19 and Hurricane Ida over the last two years.

“I tell the players over and over – through adversity we become stronger,” Kanga said. “They’re a good group of players.

“This is a time I’ve been waiting for. I’m really, really proud of this group of players. This will do nothing but boost the program up.”

UNO (16-6) and Florida (23-2) meet at 5 p.m. CDT Friday. Miami and South Florida face off in the other first-round match in Gainesville, with the winners meeting for a berth in the Round of 16 on Saturday.

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Lenny Vangilder

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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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