The 43rd-ranked Razorback men’s tennis team will break away from its Southeastern conference schedule this weekend as it will take on Wichita State and Southern Miss on Friday and Sunday respectively. The Razorbacks are four matches deep into conference play, but are currently on a three-match skid heading into this weekend’s matches. Head coach Robert Cox
believes the scheduling of these non-conference matches couldn’t have come a better time for his team.
“We always have a weekend off during conference season,” Cox said. “It’s always been a good weekend to get away from the SEC and work on a few things. Along with this weekend’s matches, we also have Lamar and UMKC coming in during the middle of next week. That’s four matches that couldn’t have come at a better time. We’re hoping to see some different faces out there that are representing the Razorbacks. We’ll rest up for a couple of days and hopefully get some good things to happen in these matches.”
Last week the team competed in its second weekend of conference play, traveling to Auburn, Ala., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., to face the 27th-ranked Tigers and the Crimson Tide. In its match against the Tigers, the Hogs fell behind after being swept in the doubles matches and then could not get any momentum back as they lost at the top three spots in singles and went on to lose 5-2. Sophomore Manfred Jeske
and junior Mike Ward
did earn wins for the Razorbacks, but it was not until after the clinching point was made by Auburn. Jeske’s win was his third over a ranked opponent this year, which is the most for any Razorback this year.
In their match with the Crimson Tide, it was much of the same story as the men fell behind in doubles and proceeded to lose on five of the six singles courts. Senior Nikolas Zogaj
earned the lone win for Arkansas as he defeated his second ranked player in as many weekends. Zogaj has won three of his first four matches to open conference play and is now 14-10 on the year.
“It was a tough road trip,” Cox said. “Anytime you go on the road in the SEC and play away from home, it’s a tough go. Against Auburn, the Tigers were just too good. They played really solid at three of their positions and we never really got going. We played a pretty good doubles point, but dropped it and they just jumped all over us. Against Alabama, we just came out flat and it really surprised me. I thought we really matched up well with them. We had good practices leading up to it and been playing well, but just came out flat. However, there were spots where we really shined.”
One of those players who has really risen above the rest has been Zogaj, who has opened SEC play with a winning record, including two ranked wins. His first came against No. 14 Anthony Rossi of Kentucky during the opening of conference play. Zogaj won the match in three sets and it was the highest ranked win for any Razorback this season. His second came a week later when he defeated No. 115 Daniil Proskura in straight sets. Those wins vaulted Zogaj into the national singles rankings for the first time in his career and he will take the No. 120 ranking into this weekend’s matches. Zogaj joins Jeske as the only two Hogs to be ranked in singles at any point this season.
“Nikolas is probably going to move up in the lineup a little bit,” Cox said. “He’s going to be tested even more, but as a senior, he’ll be able to handle it. He’s done a great job leading this team and like I’ve said before, we’ve had the best team chemistry you could ask for. With Nikolas’ leadership along with Matt Walters
, they’re doing a great job keeping this team together. I’m real proud of Nikolas with what he’s doing, being 3-1 in conference play and all of the guys look up to him. I hope some of his confidence wears off on some of our guys.”
The Hogs first match will come against the 69th-ranked Wichita State Shockers on Friday. Wichita State is coming into the weekend with a six-match winning streak and the Shockers last loss was on February 16 against No. 44 TCU. During the streak, the Shocker men have only lost one point, which was to Illinois-Chicago on March 3. David Cavalcanti, Juan Estenssoro, Tomislav Gregurovic, and Guillermo Nicol are all also on six match singles winning streaks, while Matheus Pereira and Kester Black have won five straight matches in singles.
On Sunday, it will be 66th-ranked Southern Miss’s turn to take on the Razorbacks. The team comes in with an 8-4, but will actually face SMU on Thursday before facing Wichita State on Saturday in Fayetteville. The team is led by Andrew Goodwin, who is 14-6 on the year and has won 11 out of 13 matches in dual play.
“Wichita State is a well coached team,” Cox said. “We play them every year and they’re having their best season in recent memory. If we get by them, we have to come right back with Southern Miss, who is great improved as well. We don’t know much about them. Both of those teams are going to be very solid. It’s going to be a dogfight and we’re going to come out blazing.”
Friday’s match with Wichita State is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. and then Sunday’s match with Southern Miss has the first serve scheduled for noon. Both matches will be played at the Billingsley Tennis Center and the decision to play indoors or outdoors will be made on the day of the match. Live stats and the live blog will be available for both matches and a complete recap and results will be posted online following each match.