2013 ITA Men’s Kick-Off Weekend Preview

2013 Kick Off Weekend_sm

2013 ITA Men’s Kick-Off Weekend Preview

Sixty teams from across the nation compete in the ITA’s first event of 2013

SKILLMAN, NJ (Jan. 23) -- Collegiate tennis will be back in full force as the fifth annual ITA Kick-Off Weekend is set for January 25-28.  Across the nation, 60 schools will be competing for the 15 vacant spots at the ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championship which will be hosted next month by the University of Washington.  

The 15 universities hosting ITA Kick-Off Weekend events were designated as host sites in order of their year-end 2012 ITA team ranking.  Three visiting schools will travel to each host site for a four-team tournament with the host school facing the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed playing the No. 3 seed.  The winners will come back the following day to play for a berth at the ITA National Men's Team Indoor Championship.
For complete coverage of the 2013 ITA Kick-Off Weekend please visit the official ITA event page. Follow the ITA on Twitter, @ITAtennis, for updates and news from the weekend’s events. Use the hashtag #ITAKickOff for all tweets in regards to the event, or search the term "ITAKickOff" to find others who are tweeting from across the nation about ITA Kick-Off Weekend, Jan. 25-28.

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 sites.

Los Angeles - (1) USC, (2) Fresno State, (3) Georgia Tech, (4) San Diego State
Looking to pick up where they left off last year, the four-time defending NCAA Champion USC Trojans landed seven players in the ITA College Tennis Rankings of 2013.  Despite the departure of Steve Johnson and Daniel Nguyen, the Trojans remain one of the premier teams in Division I men’s tennis.

USC will be led by the trio of Ray Sarmiento, Roberto Quiroz and Emilio Gomez.  All three players are ranked inside the Top 30 with Sarmiento owning the highest ranking at No. 10.  Sarmiento had a solid fall season, reaching the quarterfinals of the ITA Men’s All-American Championship and the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in addition to leading the United States to their second consecutive Master’U BNP Paribas title.

The Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech boast the No. 3 ranked doubles team in Vikram Hundal and Juan Spir.  Earlier this year the duo claimed the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships consolation title.  

Charlottesville - (1) Virginia, (2) Arkansas, (3) Georgia State, (4) North Florida
Top ranked Virginia have their hearts set on the program’s first NCAA title after coming up just short the previous two seasons.  Losing just one player from last year’s team, the Cavaliers placed three singles players as well as three doubles teams inside the Top 10 to start the season, making them the team to beat in 2013.

Alex Domijan and Jarmere Jenkins return at the top of the lineup after collecting singles titles at the ITA Men’s All-American Championship and USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships respectively.  Virginia also added the nation’s highest ranked freshman in Mac Styslinger.  

Making things more difficult for the Razor Backs, Panthers and Ospreys will be the return of 2012 ITA Rookie of the Year Mitchell Frank, who missed the entire fall season due to injury.  The sophomore posted a 38-2 record last season and claimed both the ITA Men’s All-American Championship and USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships singles crowns.  

Los Angeles - (1) UCLA, (2) South Florida, (3) BYU, (4) Cal Poly
Despite only having two players ranked in the ITA College Tennis Rankings, UCLA looks to be a force to be reckoned with in 2013.  Solid fall seasons by No. 12 Marcos Giron and No. 41 Dennis Mkrtchian highlight some of the talent the Bruins will have entering the spring season.

Another talented Bruin to keep an eye on will be Dennis Novikov. The sophomore missed most of the fall season with an injury but showed signs of greatness in the summer with opening round singles and doubles wins at the US Open.  He also gave a scare in the second round to No. 36 Jurgen Melzer of Austria, falling in a five set battle.  

Cal Poly’s Andre Dome and South Florida’s Federico Sabogal will be the only other ranked players at the UCLA site.  Although only four ranked players will be at the event, the quality of tennis will surely be at a high level.

Columbus - (1) Ohio State, (2) Miami (FL), (3) Louisiana-Lafayette, (4) East Tennessee State
With a 148 home match win streak dating back to 2003, Ohio State looks like the clear favorite in Columbus, OH.  Ohio State will also have the only ranked players of all four teams on-site, tilting the scales even more in favor for the Buckeyes.

Top ranked Peter Kobelt will lead Ohio State after a pair of runner-up finishes at the ITA Men’s All-American Championship and the consolation draw of the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.  Ohio State also welcomes a pair of newcomers in Constantin Christ and Chris Diaz.  Christ was voted in the fall as one of the Top 10 newcomers while Diaz’s play in 2012 has earned a No. 30 ranking.  

Stacking the odds even more for Ohio State will be the return of Blaz Rola, who spent the fall season playing on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Pro Circuit.  The junior from Slovenia currently owns a 310 ATP singles ranking after successfully winning six ITF titles (four singles and two doubles).

Athens - (1) Georgia, (2) VCU, (3) Minnesota, (4) Vanderbilt
Three of Georgia’s top four singles players from a year ago are gone but the Bulldogs remain one of the nation’s elite programs and the favorite to earn a bid the ITA National Men’s Teams Indoor Championship.  However, VCU, Minnesota and Vanderbilt all have three or more players with ITA rankings which could pose a problem for the Bulldogs.

All three of Georgia’s returning starters are ranked inside the Top 20 with KU Singh leading the way at No. 8 after an impressive fall season that was highlighted with a semifinal appearance at the ITA Men’s All-American Championship.  Georgia also boasts the nation’s fifth best doubles team in Ben Wagland and Hernus Pieters.  

Second seeded VCU could be a tough matchup with three ranked singles players and a ranked doubles team while Minnesota and Vanderbilt each possess three ranked players/doubles teams.  Minnesota’s Rok Bonin and Vanderbilt’s Ryan Lipman both earned trips to the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships which should make for some high level of tennis at the top of the lineup.

Malibu - (1) Pepperdine, (2) Florida State, (3) Drake, (4) Denver
The host Waves have only one ranked player in their lineup which could open the door for Florida State, Drake or Denver to punch their ticket to Seattle, WA for the ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championship.    

Drake could be the team that sneaks away from Malibu as a winner.  Of the Bulldogs starting six, four are ranked inside the Top 125 while also boasting the No. 16 doubles tandem in Anis Ghorbel and James McKie.   Florida State will rely on their experience as they return five of six starters from a year ago as well as all three doubles teams.  Denver has a similar team make-up, returning four of six starters and two of three doubles teams.    

Sixth ranked Sebastian Fanselow is the highest ranked player at the event and will need the help of his teammates to have a successful weekend.  Teammate Finn Tearney will surely add some much needed firepower to the top half of the order but an entirely new doubles lineup along with just three players back from last year’s starting six will make things difficult for the Waves.

Lexington - (1) Kentucky, (2) Texas, (3) South Carolina, (4) Michigan State
The Wildcats are one of five SEC teams that will be hosting an event during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend.  Kentucky’s trio of No. 15 Tom Jomby, No. 94 Anthony Rossi and No. 97 Juan Pablo Murra will be looked upon to guide the Wildcats to a successful weekend.

Texas will look to counter with their ranked trio of No. 31 Soren Hess-Olesen, No. 43 Daniel Whitehead and No. 98 Nick Naumann.  If the two teams are able to advance to the championship match, the difference could come down to doubles action where the Longhorns appear to have the edge with two ranked teams to Kentucky’s one.

The Gamecocks of South Carolina return four starters from last season and are hoping that the addition of Oklahoma transfer Tsvetan Mihov will make them contenders in Lexington.  Michigan State will also look to cause some trouble as they return the majority of last year’s starting lineup.

Durham - (1) Duke, (2) Northwestern, (3) Virginia Tech, (4) Middle Tennessee
With incredible depth this season Duke looks like the clear favorite at this event on their home courts.  The Blue Devils are the only team in the nation to have their entire lineup, singles and doubles, ranked.

Duke brings back 5-of-6 starters from last season’s NCAA quarterfinal team including No. 11 Henrique Cunha, who with partner Raphael Hemmeler comprise the nation’s top doubles team.  Earlier this year the duo brought home the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships doubles title.  Also, the addition of freshmen Michael Redlicki and Bruno Semenzato should further strengthen Duke’s chances of reaching the ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championships.  Redlicki owns a No. 14 ranking and over the summer reached the second round of the US Open in doubles.  

Posing the biggest threat to the Blue Devils may be ACC rival Virginia Tech.  The Hokies are led by their dynamic freshmen of No. 29 Andreas Bjerrehus and No. 56 Amerigo Contini.  The duo won the USTA/ITA Atlantic Regional Championships and made an appearance at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.  

Palo Alto - (1) Stanford, (2) Texas Tech, (3) San Diego, (4) Texas A&M
Although Stanford enters as the top seed, the departure of Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher leaves question marks for the Cardinal’s top half of the lineup.  John Morrissey is their highest ranked player at No. 39 but eyes will be on how the sophomore handles the level of play as he moves into the top spot after playing fourth singles last season.

Texas A&M will look to upset top seeded Stanford in the first round behind a blended team of veterans and newcomers.  Junior Ore is back to play at the top spot after missing the fall season and with No. 109 Jeremy Efferding moving into the second singles position, the Aggies should have a stable top half of the lineup.  The additions of freshmen Harrison Adams and Shane Vinsant will solidify the middle portion of the Aggie lineup and together the duo will begin the 2013 season as the nation’s sixth best doubles team.

After losing their top three singles players, Texas Tech seems to have taken a step back this year.  San Diego on the other hand retained the middle part of their lineup from last year’s team and the addition of No. 62 Romain Kalaydjian makes the Toreros a legitimate threat at this event.

Norman - (1) Oklahoma, (2) Harvard, (3) Notre Dame, (4) Memphis
With four starters back and a pair of Top 40 doubles teams, the Sooners will be the team to beat at this event.  Guillermo Alcorta is Oklahoma’s top ranked player at No. 36 and has two titles to his name this year, winning the USTA/ITA Central Region singles and doubles crowns.  Oklahoma’s doubles will be a strength this year as their top team of Costin Pavel and Dane Webb are ranked No. 12 while their second doubles team of Alcorta and freshman Axel Alvarez Llamas is No. 32.

Memphis will have their hands full in the first round as they take on Oklahoma.  The Tigers have two ranked singles players in No.64 Joe Salisbury and No. 70 Johnny Grimal but also bring back five of their starting six from last season.

The Harvard and Notre Dame match should serve as a good assessment of what progress was made by each team from the fall.  Without their first and third singles players from a year ago, Harvard may be in for a tough season.  Earlier this year they lost all six singles matches to Notre Dame at the Tribe Invitational.  For Notre Dame, longtime head coach Bobby Bayliss is entering his final season, however, the Fighting Irish will be poised for a strong start to the 2013 season.

Starkville - (1) Mississippi State, (2) Auburn, (3) Indiana, (4) LSU
All four teams on site are ranked inside the Top 25 but Mississippi State and Auburn seem to be the front runners at this event.  Host Mississippi State welcomes four newcomers into their starting six this season with No. 81 Malte Stropp and James Chaundry as the lone returners.  Of the four new faces, freshman standout Romain Bogaerts is the only rookie with a singles ranking, coming in at No. 25 after a fall season that produced a run to the quarterfinals at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.  

Auburn will have five of their top six players back from the 2011-12 season, including their top singles player No. 74 Andreas Mies.  One of Auburn’s biggest strengths over the weekend will be their doubles play as Daniel Cochrane and Mies make-up the nation’s third best doubles team.  Together the duo collected a title at the ITA Men’s All-American Championship and a reached the semifinals of the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.  

Indiana and LSU will have their hands full as they try to earn a trip to the ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championship.  

Gainesville - (1) Florida, (2) UNC Wilmington, (3) South Alabama, (4) St. John's
Florida and UNC Wilmington will be favored to advance in the opening rounds of play as they are the only teams with ranked players at this site.  

Under the guidance of first year head coach Bryan Shelton, Florida looks to be back on track for another successful season, landing three singles players inside the Top 125 as well as a doubles team inside the Top 50. The Gators’ Florent Diep is the highest ranked player at the event at No. 26.  The junior will be making the jump from fifth to first singles this season and has already shown the growth in his game this fall by winning the USTA/ITA Southeast Region singles title.  Bob van Overbeek played first singles last season but will be at the second spot this year and with a No. 51 ranking should be a tough match-up for whomever the Gators face in Gainesville.  

The Seahawks of UNC Wilmington also have four players/teams ranked in the ITA College Tennis Rankings of 2013.  A 12-3 fall season for Rafael Aita produced a No. 37 ranking, making him a key player for UNC Wilmington along with the Seahawks’ top two doubles teams which both fall inside the Top 60.   

Berkeley - (1) Cal, (2) Michigan, (3) Santa Clara, (4) Boise State
The Golden Bears are one of five schools from the Golden State that will be hosting an event during ITA Kick-Off Weekend.  Cal’s Ben McLachlan returns to the number one singles position following a 9-4 fall season that included a USTA/ITA Northwest Region singles title which eventually led to a No. 66 ranking.  He also brought home the USTA/ITA Northwest Region doubles crown with partner and brother, Riki McLachlan.  Together the duo is ranked seventh in the country.  

With only one ranked player, many might overlook Michigan but a closer look at the Wolverines show that they may be Cal’s biggest threat.  Transfers Vlad Stefan and Spencer Newman will allow several returning players from last year’s team to compete at a lower position, giving the Wolverines much needed depth.  After a disappointing 3-3 fall season, Michigan is hopeful Evan King will be able to turn things around in 2013 after showing signs of his former self by helping USA win their second straight Master’U BNP Paribas title.  
Santa Clara’s John Lamble reached the finals of the USTA/ITA Northwest Region singles draw and is ranked 65th entering the ITA Kick-Off Weekend.  Meanwhile, Boise State boasts the highest ranked player at the event in No. 28 Andy Bettles.  The junior from England had a solid fall season with four wins against current Top 100 players.  

Oxford - (1) Ole Miss, (2) Louisville, (3) NC State, (4) Columbia
With a strong one-two punch at the top of the singles lineup, Ole Miss should be in driver seat for most of the weekend’s matches.  Fifth ranked Jonas Lutjen had a breakout fall season for the Rebels, compiling a 14-3 record to go along with an ITA Men’s All-American Championship consolation singles title and a trip to the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.   However, teammate Nik Scholtz will be at the number one spot for Ole Miss.  The South African native totaled eight wins in the fall en route a No. 33 ranking and won the USTA/ITA Southern Region singles title.  

The Rebels will take on Columbia in the first round and this match may be their biggest obstacle of the weekend as the Lions feature the second most ranked players and teams at this site.  Columbia’s doubles teams will test the best teams in the nation as they have two teams ranked inside the Top 40.  Ashok Narayana and Max Schnur logged plenty of quality wins in the fall as they own a No. 17 ranking while Bert Vancura and Winston Lin have teamed up for a No. 38 ranking.  Lin will also be Columbia's ace in the singles lineup.  He had a busy fall season as he appeared in all of the ITA's major events which ultimately led to a No. 44 singles ranking.  

Louisville’s Sebastian Stiefelmeyer will be a player to watch at this site as he has two wins against current Top 80 players.  North Carolina State lost their top three singles players from last season and has one newcomer in the starting six.

Urbana - (1) Illinois, (2) North Carolina, (3) Tulsa, (4) Tennessee
On paper this event looks to be the toughest of them all as all four teams land inside the Top 25 in the ITA Men’s College Tennis Rankings.  This site will more than likely feature the most competitive team matches of all the sites during ITA Kick-Off Weekend.

Illinois will have a new look this year with Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmanovich both gone, leaving the top two spots in the singles lineup vacant.  The Fighting Illini will turn to Tim Kopinski to fill the void at first singles after earning a 10-5 record in the fall.  The Tennessee Volunteers will look upset Illinois on the Illini’s home courts in the first round behind No. 9 Mikelis Libietis.  Tennessee also returns five of their six starters from 2012 and with the addition of transfer John Collins, the Volunteers will look to build on last year’s success.  

A win by Tennessee along with a win by North Carolina would set up a rematch of last year’s NCAA Second Round match.  The Tar Heels are looking strong again this year as they feature their top four singles players in the Top 110 as well as a doubles team in the Top 50.  Esben Hess-Olesen is North Carolina’s top guy with a 10-5 record and a No. 18 ranking.  

North Carolina will not have a cakewalk to the finals by any means as they square off against No. 17 Tulsa.  The Golden Hurricane have five of their six starters back this year including their No. 1 singles player Japie De Klerk  who is 34th in the nation. De Klerk is joined in the national spotlight by Alejandro Espejo who will be playing No. 3 for Tulsa and is ranked 69th.  

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

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