FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — With three seniors and four 20-match winners back from last year’s squad which went 16-10, advanced to the regional final of the NCAA Tournament and ended the year ranked No. 25 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, Arkansas hopes to keep its place among the nation’s elite, and that starts with three matches this weekend.
The 28th-ranked Razorbacks open the 2002 spring season with a match Saturday at noon against Texas-Arlington and two matches on Sunday, at 10 a.m. and at 2 p.m., both against St. Louis. All three matches are scheduled in the UA Indoor/Outdoor Tennis Center.
Entering his 15th year at the reigns of the Arkansas tennis program, Robert Cox leads a veteran squad with a mix of veterans and underclassmen into the battlefields of the toughest league in the country. In fact, “tennis is by far the toughest of all the sports in the SEC,” says Cox.
Last year the Razorbacks finished ninth in the SEC, but that’s in a league that sent all 12 members into the NCAA Tournament. It marked the first time all 12 members from a league advanced to the NCAA Tournament in any sport.
Cox believes a .500 record this year in SEC play would allow the Hogs to garner a top 15 ranking.
The Hogs are coming off their best season in 10 years, reaching the NCAA Tournament regional finals before losing, 4-3, to Southern Methodist in Dallas. They are looking to continue the progress they’ve made. The potential is there, but the Razorbacks lost their No. 1 and No. 2 singles players. Gone is Oskar Johansson, who was 28-11 and ranked No. 1 in the nation from mid-February until the first part of April during the spring semester. Also gone are Henrik Tofft, who went 14-13 at the No. 2 spot, and Tim Shuler, who was 10-7 in singles.
“We have added a few new guys to the team and lost some great players,” Cox says. “Talley Parker is a local player who played all of his tennis in Northwest Arkansas and is a three-time Arkansas state champion and 2001 state overall champion.
“Nathan Price is a transfer from Texas A&M and is a sophomore. He is from Tulsa where he was the 2000 Oklahoma state champion.
“Oscar Ohlsson continues the Swedish connection to UA. He is a top 20 Swede junior and will help immediately.
“This year’s team is very deep. Depth and experience will be our strength this season.”
Senior Oggie Kolev, who transferred from Drake University after the 1999-00 season, finished his first season for the Razorbacks last year with a singles record of 26-12. Ranked 11th in the ITA’s Region VI and No. 81 nationally, he is a fixture at the top of Arkansas’ lineup.
“Oggie is a logical choice,” Cox says. “He should be able to step right in and be able to handle the top spot.”
Kolev, from Sydney, Australia, made that an easy choice for Cox in the fall, winning his first eight matches on the way to a 15-3 start and reaching the quarterfinals of the Omni Hotels ITA Region VI Championships.
Price, the transfer from Texas A&M, went 15-2 last year for the Aggies, who were ranked in the top 10.
“We are very fortunate to have him here on campus,” says Cox. “He should push Oggie and make everybody else better.”
Price was 1-2 in limited action in the fall but is called on to fill one of the spots in the upper half of the lineup.
Junior Aleksey Bubis, from Palm Harbor, Fla., is also asked to deliver after going 28-10. Cox feels he will step-in and add a punch to the lineup.
“He had a very good record last year,” says Cox. “We are really pleased with his progress.”
Kolev and Bubis are two of four returnees who recorded 20 victories last year. Seniors Tiago Azevedo and Magnus Kullenberg are back after going 20-13 and 21-15, respectively. Yet another returnee, junior Eduardo Pacheco, was 12-7.
Kullenberg did not play in the fall but Azevedo played and recorded the biggest win of his career, knocking off sixth-ranked Jean Simon of Texas, 6-2, 6-3, in the Texas Intercollegiate at Baylor. Bubis was 7-5 in the fall while Azevedo was 6-7 and Pacheco 6-5.
Ohlsson, the freshman from Sweden who was 4-5 in the fall, brings with him a top 20 junior ranking.
“He is very capable of stepping in this year for us,” says Cox.
Parker and junior Gary Nunn are also fighting for a spot. Parker was 4-7 in the fall and Nunn 2-9.
With Kolev expected to fill the No. 1 position, the other seven spots are up for grabs. In fact, Cox feels the two through eight spots are solid for the Hogs and are interchangeable because of depth. The eight traveling spots are filled based on the performances during the fall season. Freshmen Kristofer Ivarsson and Adrians Zguns, a pair of mid-year additions, will also battle for spots in the lineup.
In doubles, two of the team’s top tandems are back. Bubis and Kolev were 12-6 a year ago while Azevedo and Kullenberg were 9-4.
“I am really excited about this year,” says Cox. “We are proud to be back in the top 25 and we will do everything we can to improve on our ranking this year.”