Men's Tennis Kicks Off Spring Slate at Navy on Saturday
Jan. 25, 2013
MERION STATION, Pa. - The Saint Joseph's men's tennis team is prepped for a breakout campaign in the spring of 2013. After solid fall performances from both veterans and youngsters alike, this year's squad looks to continue its rise through the ranks of the increasingly competitive Atlantic 10.
"I think we're a little deeper than we were last season," said head coach Ian Crookenden, now in his fifth year with the Hawks. Crookenden feels this added depth will allow the Hawks to field a strong lineup in every match while weathering the bumps and bruises that are customary throughout a long season.
In order to improve its seed in the conference tournament, the squad must continue to earn the respect of the coaches around the league. There is only one way to do that: winning on the court.
"[Improved seeding] will come if we can improve our won-lost record against teams close to us," Crookenden said. "We have to take advantage of our limited opportunities against teams in that tier of teams that we need to break into."
Crookenden has a large squad at his disposal this season, but despite its size, the group is a tight-knit one, as every player knows his role and understands the importance of it.
"The fall season is the time for individuals," Crookenden explained. "In the spring, the focus shifts to the team. Our mantra this spring is `we.'"
As the squad begins its journey to the Atlantic 10 Championship in Mason, Ohio, the Hawks will once again look to Alex Veronis to lead the way. Veronis returns for his senior campaign after posting nine top-flight victories last season.
Junior transfer Jose Sierra will push Veronis for playing time in the top flight this season. Coming to Saint Joseph's from San Diego State, Sierra will strengthen the Hawks at the top; the one-two combination of Sierra and Veronis will allow SJU to compete for the first two singles points against any opponent.
Senior captain Tommy Gates will be in the mix in the remaining flights, as will graduate student Jeff Kessler, junior Dan Barrus, and sophomores Pierre Brondeau and Max Montague. Those five players will fill out the remaining rotation slots to start the campaign; as the season wears on, the Hawks' depth will allow Crookenden to mix and match his lineup to suit the playing conditions, as well as each student-athlete's recent form.
Gates tied for the team lead in singles wins last season with 11, while Kessler tied for the team lead in matches played with Barrus and Gates at 25. Montague also pulled in 11 victories, while Brondeau posted a 7-6 record in the sixth flight last season before earning a flight championship at the Penn Invitational this fall.
"I think we've got a good eight or nine players that can compete at the highest level," Crookenden said. "That allows us to avoid having to go to our emerging young players and allows them to continue to develop."
Freshman Andres Urrea, fresh off his flight victory at the 2012 SJU Invitational, could contribute to the singles rotation as well, but his presence will be better felt on the doubles side, where he has formed a solid partnership with Brondeau.
In addition to that coupling, the Hawks will pair Sierra and Montague, Veronis and Kessler, and Gates and Barrus to provide Crookenden with solid options for the three doubles slots in each dual match.
"This way, if somebody's hurt or not feeling well, we won't miss a beat," Crookenden explained.
The Hawk headman will get an idea of how his squad is shaping up early on as SJU heads to Navy to kick off the spring campaign before hosting Richmond at the Upper Dublin Sports Center. The Hawks will take on Saint Peter's, Davidson, Delaware, Fordham, and UMBC before heading to Orlando for their annual spring break trip.
Those matches in Florida will be invaluable as the season shifts to more outdoor play. Home contests against Lafayette, St. Bonaventure, Bucknell, NJIT, La Salle, and St. Francis (N.Y.) as well as road trips to Lehigh, Dayton, and Duquesne, and crosstown jaunts to Drexel, Villanova, and Temple, will allow the Hawks to be firing on all cylinders for the conference championship, which gets underway on April 25.
A winning record is the goal for any athletic squad, as is earning the respect of its opponents. If the Hawks are able to reach both of those goals, the last weekend in April could be a memorable one for SJU tennis.