FAYETTEVILLE — After jumping nearly 30 spots in the newest ITA rankings, the 47th-ranked Razorback men’s tennis team will kick off the SEC portion of its schedule this weekend when they take on the No. 48 Vanderbilt Commodores and the No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats Friday and Sunday respectively.
Arkansas (8-2) is coming off a very strong weekend where they traveled to Santa Clara, Calif. and defeated then No. 43 Santa Clara and Pacific University by scores of 4-3 and 7-0. The Hogs continued to play strong doubles as they won both early points and got a 2-0 weekend from their top team of junior Hall Fess and senior Matt Walters. The duo is now 15-2 on the year and winners of nine of their last ten. Head coach Robert Cox said that winning that first point in a match has always been important to them and it has paid dividends for them so far this season.
“We had a great weekend out in Santa Clara,” Cox said. “We got off to a good start against the Broncos, winning a tight doubles point and then we just out-competed them. The longer the match went, we played better and better. I’m real proud of the guys. We’re as close as we’ve ever been and the team chemistry is at an all-time high. Our doubles have continued to play well. Who would have thought Hall Fess and Matt Walters would have the record they do at this point in the year? That kind of spurs us on. It gives us a lot of confidence to know we have a good shot at winning every doubles point. To beat some highly ranked teams, we’re going to have to win that doubles point.”
The strong doubles performances don’t stop at the No. 1 spot as the Hogs have also gotten great production out of their No. 3 spot with sophomores Mike Nott and Manfred Jeske. The two Razorbacks have teamed up over the last two weeks to win three straight matches and will carry a 5-1 dual record into the first SEC matches of the year. The team actually only has one setback on its record which was a loss back in the Purdue match, but has a stellar record the rest of the way, claiming wins in eight of their last nine matches.
Arkansas has benefited from a tough non-conference schedule so far this year as they have faced four ranked opponents and come out winners in two. Their 5-2 victory over No. 73 Depaul was their first of the season and then most recently the victory over Santa Clara was the second. With those two victories, Arkansas jumped up in the polls from being unranked to No. 47 in the nation. Cox said that he is glad the team has had the early tests this season as it will help in what is an always tough SEC schedule.
“To get a couple of ranked wins was very important to us,” Cox said. “It helped us with the psyching of this team and to especially do it on the road was very important. It all started with the Tulsa match a couple of weeks ago. They were a top-25 team and the score wasn’t very close, but it was a very close match. It gave the guys a lot of confidence that they can play on a high level. Couple that with being competitive out in Santa Clara and fighting until the end, they proved to themselves that they can be a pretty good team.”
This weekend’s first match pits the Hogs against No. 48 Vanderbilt. The Commodores are 5-5 on the year and have had a number of close matches so far on the non-conference slate. The team features six freshmen on its roster and one player in particular, Gonzales Austin, has been a mainstay in the No. 1 position in doubles and the No. 2 position in singles. He goes for his sixth straight singles victory this weekend. Two other players, Charlie Jones, who is ranked No. 62 in the newest ITA singles poll, and Jeff Offerdahl lead the team in wins this spring with 8-2 records in singles.
On Sunday, 7th-ranked Kentucky will visit Fayetteville as Arkansas’ second SEC opponent of the year as they are 11-3 on the year and will Arkansas’ highest ranked opponent of the season so far. The Wildcats began the year on a 10-match winning streak, before losing three straight to No. 2 Ohio State and No. 7 Stanford. The first of the two losses came at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships and then the Wildcats and Buckeyes faced off again just seven days later in Columbus, Ohio. Eric Quigley leads all Kentucky singles players with a 33-5 record. He is also a perfect 10-0 in dual play. Anthony Rossi is right behind him with a 26-2 overall record and a 9-0 record this dual season.
Kentucky brings in five singles players ranked in the ITA top-125. Quigley (#6), Rossi (#14), Alex Musialek (#16), Tom Jomby (#98) and Alejandro Gomez (#107) have combined to win 36 matches this dual season and only have suffered five losses amongst them.
“Vanderbilt has always been a very competitive match with us,” Cox said. “We have a good rivalry going back and forth over the years with them. They’re well coached and they have a few freshmen that are playing in the top six for them. Hopefully, we’ll match up well there. Kentucky comes in ranked No. 7 in the country and they’re at an all-time high. We’re going to need to be extra competitive and play our best tennis to come out with a win on Sunday.”
Arkansas’ match against Vanderbilt is slated to start at 1 p.m. Friday afternoon, while Sunday’s match against Kentucky will have first serve go up at 11:30 p.m. Following the Kentucky match, the Hogs will play a second match as they will take on Cowley County Community College roughly one hour after the conclusion of the Kentucky match. All matches this weekend will take place at the Billingsley Tennis Center. Decision of outdoor or indoor matches will not be determined until the day of the match.
Live stats and the live blog will be available for all three matches and a full recap and complete results can be found online following each day’s play.