After dominating the first tournament of the year, the men’s and women’s tennis teams head to different parts of the U.S. to serve it up against some of the best talent in the country.
Members of the men’s tennis team head east this weekend to Tulsa, Okla., for the ITA All-American Championships. Last year, the Cougars were represented by four players, all of whom fell in the first and second rounds. Junior Spencer Smith and sophomore Patrick Kawka, who both participated in the tournament last year, are joined by teammates, senior George Batrakov and freshmen Keaton Cullimore and Francis Sargeant.
“This is a tournament a lot of the top players will be at,” Smith said. “It’s very similar to the NCAA Championships in the spring. Everyone wants to win it.”
The tournament is split into three draws: the prequalifying, the qualifying and the main. To qualify for the main and qualifying draws, players need to be nationally ranked from previous college performance. Kawka, currently ranked No. 53 and the highest-ranked player at BYU from last season, became the first BYU player in several years to make it to the main draw. Forty-eight other players from various schools join Kawka in the main draw, and will await the final 12 players decided from the qualifying and prequalifying rounds.
Batrakov and Smith, also nationally ranked at No. 91 and No. 117, respectively, will compete to earn two of 12 spots to join Kawka in the main draw to battle for the title.
The two players representing BYU in the prequalifying round, Cullimore and Sargeant, head into one of the biggest tournaments of their careers. The prequalifying round begins on Saturday where the freshmen hope to advance with 12 others to the qualifying round.
“My teammates and I have all the talent we need to compete and be in the main draw,” Smith said. “We have the talent to compete with the best.”
Smith was also named by coach Brad Pearce as this year’s team captain.
In years past BYU sent one or two players to the All-American Tournament. Last year BYU placed four, and this year the team has increased its presence to five.
“This is huge,” assistant coach Zach Warren said. “This is the first year I can remember having a singles player in the main draw. We also have two in the qualifying round and two in the prequalifying round. That shows us where our program is going.”
BYU will also be represented by two teams in the qualifying round for the doubles tournament. Smith and Spencer, as well as Kawka and Batrokov, team up for the competition.
“Our teams are very dangerous,” Warren said. “Brad and I wouldn’t be surprised if they go deep in the tournament [in singles and doubles]. We have been training with the team to be as ready as possible for the tournament.”
On the other side of the net, the women’s team heads the opposite direction to Berkeley, Calif., for the Cal Nike Invitational. Although not a nationwide event, several players ranked in the top 100 will compete. BYU will compete against Arizona State, Cal Berkeley, Fresno State, Nevada, Pacific, Sacramento State, Saint Mary’s College, San Francisco, San Jose State, Santa Clara, UC Davis and USC.
Last year the Cougars struggled to find footing in the tournament, dropping matches early during the first day. However, in the second day of tournament play Megan Price, Elle Carney and Andie Young each earned a victory in the consolation brackets. The biggest success for BYU came when Price and former teammate Callie Craig advanced to the Gold Quarterfinal match, before losing to Cal’s Jana Jurikova and Mari Anderson, 8-4.
Regardless of the outcome during the tournament last year, the team is ready for top-talent competition. Junior Aubrey Paul said the team has had good preparation in practice and previous match play for this tournament.
“The BYU Invitational was really good preparation for it,” Paul said. “Our coaches have talked with us and helped us set goals individually to help us focus on our game. Just in watching us we have a talented team and talented freshman. We should do very well.”
Both the men’s and women’s tournaments this weekend have matches scheduled for Sunday, but true to form, BYU players have opted out of Sunday play, regardless of the success they might have.