2012 ITA Men's Kick-Off Weekend Preview

2012 ITA Men's Kick-Off Weekend Preview

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The spring season of collegiate tennis shifts into full gear January 27-30 during the annual ITA Kick-Off Weekend. Sixty schools will be competing across the country for the 15 vacant spots at the ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championship, to be hosted next month by the University of Virginia.

The 15 universities hosting ITA Kick-Off Weekend events were designated as host sites in order of their year-end 2011 Campbell/ITA team ranking. Three visiting schools will travel to each host site for a four-team tournament. The host school will meet the No. 4 seed, the No. 2 seed will play the No. 3 seed, and the winners will come back the following day to play for a berth at the ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championship.

For specific dates and times of each match during ITA Kick-Off Weekend, please visit ITAtennis.com. With so much at stake and so many good matches on the horizon, here’s an in-depth look at what to expect from each of the 15 events.

(1) USC, (2) UNC Wilmington, (3) South Florida, (4) UNLV

The defending NCAA champion Trojans netted five players in the first Campbell/ITA singles rankings of 2012. That doesn’t even include senior Steve Johnson, who played exclusively on the USTA Pro Circuit during the fall.

With Johnson back at the top of their lineup, the Trojans will be tough to beat anywhere, anytime this season, especially at home. Johnson enters 2012 having won 35 consecutive college singles matches. He has also posted good results on the pro tour, earning him a Top 400 singles and Top 200 doubles world ranking.

To make matters more difficult for the Seahawks, Bulls and Rebels, USC recently announced the addition of talented left-hander Roberto Quiroz. The freshman from Ecuador has a pair of Grand Slam titles to his name: the 2010 French Open and US Open junior doubles championships.

(1) Ohio State, (2) Indiana, (3) Notre Dame, (4) Cornell

The Buckeyes will pose doubles trouble for opponents throughout the spring. Ohio State boasts the No. 1 doubles team in the country in Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola, who swept titles at the USTA/ITA National Indoor and ITA All-American Championships.

USTA/ITA Midwest Regional doubles finalists Peter Kobelt and Connor Smith are expected to play No. 2 doubles for Ohio State, while ITA All-American consolation runners-up Devin McCarthy and Ille Van Engelen are as solid a No. 3 team as there is in the country.

Whichever team wins the Indiana vs. Notre Dame match-up could cause problems for Ohio State in the title match (should the Buckeyes beat Cornell). Both the Hoosiers and Fighting Irish return five players to their singles lineup. Then again, Ohio State defeated both Indiana and Notre Dame in Columbus last spring.

(1) Tennessee, (2) Oklahoma, (3) Ole Miss, (4) Michigan State

Tennessee lost three seniors and two underclassmen from its 2010-11 singles lineup. With three rapidly improving teams coming to visit, the Volunteers will be underdogs on their own courts during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend.

Led by hard-hitting lefty Costin Paval, the Sooners bring five singles players in the Top 65 and three doubles teams in the Top 60 of the Campbell/ITA rankings. To underline Oklahoma’s depth, USTA/ITA Central Regional champion Tsvetan Mihov is slated to play No. 4 singles for the Sooners.

Ole Miss, meanwhile, boasts 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman Nikala Scholtz in singles and twin seniors Chris and Marcel Thiemann in doubles. Michigan State also has the talent to pull off an upset or two in Knoxville. The Spartans feature three men who won at least 10 singles matches during the fall, including Big Ten Indoor Champion Aaron Pfister.

(1) Georgia, (2) Virginia Tech, (3) Nebraska, (4) TCU

Georgia’s Wil Spencer may have been the most active college tennis player in the country during the fall. The ITA All-American finalist won 17 of 19 singles matches to start his senior season before flying to France and playing a pivotal role in Team USA’s title run at the Master’U BNP Paribas.

By no means is Spencer a one-man band for the Bulldogs. Georgia has plenty of support for Spencer in its singles lineup with the likes of No. 10 Sadio Doumbia, No. 26 Ignacio Taboada and Illinois transfer KU Singh.

The highlight of the weekend could be an opening day match-up between Virginia Tech and Nebraska. The Hokies are paced by Luka Somen and Lucas Oliveira, while Christopher Aumueller and Benedikt Lindheim lead the Cornhuskers. All four men are inside the Top 80 of the Campbell/ITA singles rankings, while Aumueller and Lindheim share the No. 7 spot in doubles.

(1) Baylor, (2) Rice, (3) Florida State, (4) New Mexico State

A trio of talented freshmen hopes to bring Baylor back to the top of the collegiate game in 2012. Marko Krickovic, Lars Behlen and Mate Zsiga will each be prominent players in the Bears’ lineup this season.

If any of the freshmen are to follow in the footsteps of former NCAA singles champions Benjamin Becker and Benedikt Dorsch, it’s likely to be Zsiga. At No. 20 in the Campbell/ITA singles rankings, the Hungarian is currently the second highest-ranked freshman in the nation, having also peaked at No. 7 in the ITF world junior rankings.

The Bears appear to be heavy favorites at home against Rice, Florida State and New Mexico State, none of which feature a ranked singles player or doubles team. With legendary Rice head coach Ron Smarr entering his final season, however, the Owls will be eager to start 2012 off strongly.

(1) Stanford, (2) Santa Clara, (3) Boise State, (4) St. Mary’s

Stanford is expected to welcome back 2010 NCAA singles champion Bradley Klahn in time for the ITA Kick-Off Weekend. But while Klahn sat out the fall season, it was a different left-handed Cardinal senior who stepped up his game.

Ryan Thacher rebounded from a pair of tough losses at the ITA All-American Championships to capture the USTA/ITA Northwest Regional title. Besides their singles success, Klahn and Thacher finished 2010-11 as runners-up for the NCAA doubles championship.

Another player to watch in Palo Alto will be 25th-ranked Damian Hume of Boise State. The fleet-footed, 5-foot-7 Hume won three matches to qualify at the ITA All-American Championships, and seven to earn the winner’s trophy at the USTA/ITA Mountain Regional Championships.

(1) Kentucky, (2) Tulsa, (3) East Tennessee State, (4) North Carolina State

Coming off a stellar fall season, all six men expected to play in Kentucky’s singles lineup earned a Top 125 Campbell/ITA singles ranking at the start of 2012. That kind of top-to-bottom talent will make it tough for Tulsa, East Tennessee State and North Carolina State to come into Lexington and leave with an ITA National Team Indoor berth.

Seniors Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek were major contributors to Kentucky’s dominant fall. Quigley won the consolation title at the ITA All-American Championships before falling to Musialek in the final of the USTA/ITA Ohio Valley Regional Championships.

North Carolina State No. 1 Jaime Pulgar and Tulsa No. 1 Marcelo Arevalo are expected to compete during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend after missing the fall season. In doubles, the Golden Hurricane will be led by Clifford Marsland and Ashley Watling, who reached the final of the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.

(1) Florida, (2) Miami, (3) Wake Forest, (4) New Mexico

Having lost their No. 1 singles player to graduation and their No. 3 singles player to the pros, the Florida Gators have found other sources for success during the fall. Spencer Newman and Andrew Butz, who each spent time at No. 6 last season, earned Top 125 singles rankings earlier this month. In doubles, all three of Florida’s teams are ranked nationally, led by No. 4 Nassim Slilam and Billy Federhofer.

Like its cross-state rival, the University of Miami is going through its own transition phase. The Hurricanes’ top five singles players from 2010-11 were seniors, meaning the Miami underclassmen must step up in their opening match of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend against Wake Forest.

Danny Kreyman leads the Demon Deacons, while nationally-ranked singles and doubles player Jadon Phillips hopes to help New Mexico upset Florida in the opener.

(1) Texas A&M, (2) Mississippi State, (3) Princeton, (4) Purdue

Players from Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Princeton all qualified for the USTA/ITA National Indoors, so College Station promises to be the site of high-quality college tennis during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend.

ITA All-American quarterfinalist Alexis Klegou and USTA/ITA Texas Regional finalist Jeremy Efferding will lead host Texas A&M against Purdue, with the winner of that match to take on either Mississippi State or Princeton.

The Bulldogs boast four players in the Top 100 of the Campbell/ITA singles rankings, including Malte Stropp and Louis Cant, who are also the No. 12 doubles team in the nation. Princeton counters with the 11th-ranked team of Matt Siow and Matt Spindler, who enjoyed a Cinderella run to the consolation title at the USTA/ITA National Indoors.

(1) UCLA, (2) Fresno State, (3) UC Irvine, (4) Alabama

At the most prestigious individual tournaments of the fall, Fresno State outperformed its cross-state rival UCLA. Three different Bruins failed to convert match points on opening day of the ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, where Bulldog senior Remi Boutillier reached the quarterfinals to qualify for the USTA/ITA National Indoors.

Then, at the USTA/ITA Southwest Regional Championships, Francis Alcantara of Fresno State reached both the singles and doubles finals (with Boutillier). UCLA failed to advance anyone to the singles quarterfinals or doubles semifinals at that event.

But at a team tournament, the Bruins’ depth may make the difference. UCLA expects to have redshirt senior Nick Meister back at the top of its lineup, along with talented freshman Marcos Giron, who has been out with an injury since Tulsa. UC Irvine and Alabama will look to play spoiler to a potential UCLA vs. Fresno State final.

(1) Duke, (2) Louisville, (3) Washington, (4) VCU

Five of the six players who comprised Duke’s 2010-11 singles lineup are back in blue this season, including the seventh-ranked player in the nation, Henrique Cunha. Now a junior, Cunha is half-way to cementing a historic collegiate career, having earned ITA All-American honors in singles and doubles as a freshman and a sophomore.

No. 17 Chris Mengel, Cunha’s doubles partner this season, defeated three of his teammates, including Cunha, to win the USTA/ITA Carolina Regional title. Mengel and Cunha also won the doubles championship together.

Other players to watch in Cameron are No. 15 Kyle McMorrow of Washington, No. 47 Max Wennakoski of Virginia Commonwealth and No. 113 Andrew Carter of Louisville, who is expected to jump from No. 6 in the Cardinals’ lineup last season to No. 1 this year.

(1) Georgia Tech, (2) Illinois, (3) North Carolina, (4) Auburn

On paper, the most competitive ITA Kick-Off Weekend event appears to be in Atlanta, where four teams that finished 2010-11 in the Top 20 of the Campbell/ITA team rankings are set to do battle. Second-ranked Dennis Nevolo of Illinois leads the pack of talented players going to Georgia, having reached the USTA/ITA National Indoors final before falling to top-ranked Mitchell Frank of Virginia.

Perhaps the most improved player thus far this season is Georgia Tech’s Kevin King. The senior is up to No. 9 in singles and No. 2 in doubles in the Campbell/ITA national rankings after winning the USTA/ITA Southeast Regional singles title and making the doubles final of the ITA All-American Championships (with Juan Spir).

As King conquered the Southeast, Auburn’s Andreas Mies picked up the singles title at the USTA/ITA Southern Regional Championships. North Carolina’s Jose Hernandez missed the Carolina Regional event because he was representing his native Dominican Republic in the 2011 Pan-American Games.

(1) California, (2) Minnesota, (3) San Diego, (4) LSU

The Golden Bears bring back five returning players in their singles lineup, in addition to the fifth-ranked doubles team of Nick Andrews and Christoffer Konigsfeldt. The top Bears duo won the ITA All-American consolation title and reached the semifinals at the USTA/ITA National Indoors.

Minnesota is led by freshman Leandro Toledo and a pair of players who garnered major international experience over the summer. Phillip Arndt and Michael Sicora of the Golden Gophers represented the United States at the 2011 World University Games in Shenzhen, China.

LSU’s Olivier Borsos also competed in Shenzhen for his native Hungary. He held a match point on eventual bronze medalist Alexander Bury. Nikola Bubnic and Thibaut Visy of San Diego are the reigning USTA/ITA Southwest Regional doubles champions.

(1) Pepperdine, (2) BYU, (3) Vanderbilt, (4) Cal Poly

Pepperdine is one of five schools in the Golden State playing host to an ITA Kick-Off Weekend event. The Waves may be one of the deepest teams in the entire field, with four ranked players in their singles lineup and former Top 100 player Alex Llompart returning after missing the fall.

BYU will counter with three ranked players of its own, led by No. 43 Georgy Batrakov, a grinder from Russia who knocked off Top 10 player Kevin King of Georgia Tech at the ITA All-American Championships.

Vanderbilt hopes to have its No. 1 player, Ryan Lipman, back from injury, while Cal Poly No. 1 Andre Dome quietly enters Malibu as the No. 22 player in the country. With great feel at the net and two handed groundstrokes on both sides, Dome defeated No. 13 Alex Musialek, No. 18 Andreas Mies and No. 26 Ignacio Taboada at the ITA All-American Championships.

(1) Texas, (2) Texas Tech, (3) Michigan, (4) Maryland

The host Longhorns return only two players from their singles lineup of a year ago, which could open the door for any of the three visiting schools to walk away from Austin a winner.

USTA/ITA Texas Regional Champion Gonzalo Escobar of Texas Tech had a great fall, and with Raony Carvalho returning to the team, the Red Raiders should have a strong 1-2 punch at the top of their lineup. Like Texas Tech, Maryland returns all of its 2010-11 starters. Freshman Vlad Stefan should help the Terps after going 10-2 during the fall.

Sixth-ranked Evan King of Michigan will be the highest ranked player at this event, but he’ll need help from his teammates if the Wolverines are to upend Texas Tech in their opener.

(Note: As the host school, the University of Virginia automatically qualifies for the ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championship.)

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