FAYETTEVILLE — The 2012 Razorback men’s tennis team will get its dual season underway on Saturday as it will welcome UT-Arlington and Oral Roberts to the Billingsley Tennis Center for a triple-header. The Hogs are set to face the Mavericks from Arlington, Texas starting at noon and will follow that match with two more against the Golden Eagles from ORU.
Head coach Robert Cox will be starting his 25th straight season as the head Hog and hopefully can help the Razorbacks get a fast start to their 2012 spring season.
“We’re excited,” Cox said. “We have a full day of tennis ahead of us and we always enjoy opening our season at home. The guys are ready to go. We’ve had two good weeks of practice and our captains have done a good job of getting us ready to go. We’re ready to see someone else on the other side of the nets other than teammates.”
Since Cox has become the head coach for the Razorbacks, he has been responsible for nearly 40 percent of Arkansas’ wins in team history. He’s compiled 293 wins, alone, at Arkansas and over 400, overall, dating back to his years at Tyler Junior College.
“It seems like it’s been 10 or 15 years here,” Cox said. “It goes by really quick. Working on the academic year, it’s a nine month schedule, but for the last decade or so, it seems like a 12 month year with recruiting. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. Hopefully, we’ll compete this year and make the 25th year one to remember.”
As for the team, this year’s version of the Razorbacks are coming off a good fall season that saw strong performances from multiple doubles teams. The 8-1 record from junior Hall Fess and senior Matt Walters were good for tops on the team in wins, but Arkansas also got undefeated seasons from the team of sophomores Mike Nott and Manfred Jeske, as well as Nott and junior Mike Ward, who went 4-0 at the Purdue Invitational back in September.
In singles, the Hogs are led by the three seniors of Nikolas Zogaj, Taj Harrison and Walters. Together, they are responsible for 16 of the team’s 46 singles wins in the fall. Zogaj has the highest total with seven and only trails Jeske, who leads the team with eight singles wins.
“We had a real successful fall,” Cox said. “It was one of the better ones we’ve had in recent years. With Hall Fess and Matt Walters step up, it’s good to see Arkansans step up and play quality tennis at the Division I level. Each player was successful this fall. Manfred Jeske had a real breakout fall semester and this is only his second full semester on campus. He’s going to improve and he’s done well to make the adjustment between junior tennis and collegiate tennis.”
With the strong start that Jeske had this fall, he was rewarded with his first national ranking of his young Razorback career. The native of South Africa will play on Saturday as the No. 109 player in singles. Cox knows that Jeske will have to compete for that ranking every week, but believes his player is up to the challenge.
“It’s always good to have underclassmen push the upperclassmen,” Cox said. “We have a real balanced team, so to have Manfred step up as a sophomore and compete with the nation’s best is always a plus. It gives everyone a little confidence.”
Across the net, the Hogs will face UT-Arlington starting at noon. The Mavericks will bring in five returning players from a year ago, including senior Mindaugas Celedinas, who has been a fixture in the lineup since being named the Southland Conference Freshman of the Year in 2009. Last year, he posted a 10-10 record, with nine coming at the top singles position. As for Oral Roberts, the Razorbacks faced them twice last year, winning both times by scores of 7-0 and 5-2. Saturday’s matches will be the spring opener for all teams.
Live stats and the live blog will be available for all three matches starting at 11:45 a.m. First serve for the match with UT-Arlington will go up promptly at noon and the two matches with Oral Roberts will start roughly at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. All three matches will be played on the Dills Indoor Courts at the Billingsley Tennis Center in Fayetteville.