Men’s tennis midseason review: Seahawks poised to make a CAA run
UNCW is 8-2 at The Bird Cage
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The UNC Wilmington men’s tennis team won’t face a conference opponent until the quarterfinals of the Colonial Athletic Association Championship on April 21 in Elon, North Carolina.
Last year, the No. 1 seeded Seahawks fell 4-3 to No. 2 College of Charleston in the championship match to finish with a 12-9 record. This year’s team is 10-5 and has a roster capable of avenging last year’s loss to Charleston. All five of UNCW’s losses this year have been to schools ranked by the Intercollegiate Athletic Association as top 40 teams.
UNCW lost to No. 12 Florida 4-0 and to No. 27 South Florida 6-1 at an ITA regional kickoff event in January. The Seahawks then won five in row, including a 4-3 victory versus Michigan State before falling to South Florida again 4-0. UNCW’s first home loss of the season came on March 18 against No. 36 Georgia State.
“We just haven’t gotten that kind of breakthrough win yet, but we are getting better,” said Head Coach Mait DuBois. “The character of this team is a strength. As far as passion for the team and passion to get better, this is one of the best groups we’ve ever had and it’s showing.”
UNCW has a total of seven international freshmen who have provided immediate production. Ignasi de Rueda of Spain and Daniel Groom from Australia are two newcomers who have had strong performances all spring.
“They’re both great competitors,” said DuBois. “Groom competes like no one you’ve ever seen. Ignasi is a great ball striker. He is really making strides mentally and with his competing, and wow, when that guy dials it in, he is very, very good.”
De Rueda (10-3) and Groom (9-4) have combined for 19 singles wins. Both freshmen have also contributed to 10 of UNCW’s 13 doubles wins with a 2-2 record as partners.
“They have been rocks for us, but we have got a lot of freshmen,” said DuBois. “Michael Copeland has stepped in recently and done really well. Leon Back had a great weekend. We got a lot of different ways to beat you.”
The team’s only upperclassmen are juniors Josh Hublitz and Andres Torres. At the No. 1 position, Hublitz (3-9) has struggled to find wins.
“He [Hublitz] had the best fall of anybody on the team and started off well,” said DuBois. “It’s just a tough spot. He’s bringing the right attitude to it and I know he will break through with it.”
Hublitz may not have the most wins on the team, but he is still a proven threat to consistently compete at the No. 1 spot. On March 18, he took a ranked opponent in Zackery Kennedy of Georgia State to three sets.
Torres, a speedy, 5-foot-9, 160-pound Columbia native has stepped up to the No. 2 spot, and sometimes the No. 1, with a confidence DuBois says is evident of him embracing a “blue-collared” work ethic.
“Andres has grown up a lot,” said DuBois. “He’s put the work in, he knows he’s put the work in, and you can just tell it in the way that he is carrying himself right now.”
Torres has a singles record of 9-4 this season and has contributed to four doubles victories. On April 1, Torres beat Daryl Monfils of Virginia Commonwealth in three sets at the No. 1 spot to help the Hawks win 4-1 on home court. After beating VCU on Saturday, UNCW lost the next day to No. 37 George Washington.
The Hawks have been winning over a third of their doubles matches compared to over a 50 percent winning rate in singles. Heading into the regular season’s final matches, Coach DuBois said he will keep putting a big emphasis on doubles and giving teams different looks. UNCW has used over a dozen different doubles combinations so far this season.
“We’re just trying to play our best tennis in April, so we are just trying to get better,” said DuBois. “When you have good people it definitely makes things a lot easier. We got a good group of character guys, so it’s going well.”
After Sunday’s loss to George Washington, UNCW moved to 8-2 in home matches, something DuBois recognizes as noteworthy.
“We love to play at home,” said DuBois. “I like to think we play with a lot of energy no matter what, but we call it ‘protecting the cage’ … and it does mean a lot to our guys.”
Over the past eight seasons, UNCW is 79-8 in matches at The Bird Cage.
UNCW will travel to Johnson City, Tennessee on April 8 and 9 to face off against No. 39 Central Florida and East Tennessee State in hopes of a breakthrough win before conference tournament time. The last home match of the season is versus No. 50 Old Dominion on April 14.
Notable: The Seahawks have reached the conference finals in six out of the last eight seasons.
Quote of the Day: “I don’t think there is another coaching staff in the country with as much experience as the one that we have,” DuBois said of assistants Alex Wetherell and Taylor Vaughn, both former UNCW players who have been assistants at top programs. “As far mid-major schools, you don’t see that anywhere. Both Taylor and Alex could be great head coaches at a lot of schools, so it just adds a lot to the program.”
Copy Editor Calvin Shomaker can be found on Twitter @cshomaker12. Any tips or suggestions should be directed via email to [email protected]