BYU men’s tennis players back for victory and vengeance

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In team sports there are only a few times where teammates become enemies in pursuit of the same goal, and for BYU men’s tennis players, that is a feeling they know all too well.

The Cougars will host the Utah Fall Classic, which starts today and runs until Saturday, where individuals from several colleges and high schools will go head to head — every teammate for himself.

Last year three, BYU contestants dominated the tournament by reaching the semifinal round in singles. Those players were freshman Patrick Kawka and seniors Thomas Shubert and Evan Urbina. Shubert went on to beat Urbina in the championship in three sets (6-2, 2-6, 6-3).

“It was great to see a BYU player win the tournament,” said assistant coach Zach Warren in a news release following last year’s tournament. “But it’s always hard to see one of your players lose, especially when they both played with so much professionalism.”

These same three teammates reached the semis in doubles, along with fellow teammate Tyler Loong. However, all four players were defeated. Kawka and Loong, both freshmen for BYU at the time, ultimately lost to  John Pearce and Keaton Cullimore, who were entering their senior and junior years of high school.

The unique side of it all is Cullimore is now a Cougar. Entering his freshman season at BYU, he said his goal is to be the freshman of the year for the conference, the same honor Kawka received last year.

“I’m excited to play against my teammates,” Cullimore said. “We are all pretty good friends, but there is more pressure to win. I want to play consistently. There have been a lot of freshmen throughout the years that have been up and down because they don’t have the experience.”

Cullimore will be competing in singles and doubles with Pearce.

Kawka enters the tournament this year as the No. 2 seed in singles and doubles. Freshman David Doehring will compete with Kawka for the doubles crown.

Over the last several years, Cullimore and Kawka have met in singles and doubles tournaments several times and, according to Kawka, it’s always a battle.

“I have probably played against him five or so times in singles and doubles,” Kawka said. “In tennis, whether we are a team or not, there is some kind of individual part to it. You always want to win no matter who you’re playing. I’m usually not the kind of guy to keep too many grudges on the court. If I do, I pick it wisely.”

The only Cougar who will not be participating in the tournament is senior Georgy Batrakov, because of an injury. Junior Spencer Smith enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed in singles and doubles with freshman partner Francis Sargeant.

The tournament is the first of five that several Cougars will compete in prior to the regular season, which will begin Jan. 13 against Utah State.

The first match of the Utah Fall Classic begins today at 9 a.m. at the BYU Outdoor Tennis Courts.

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