Men’s tennis set to reach higher heights in spring season

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Wrapping up the fall season, the men’s tennis team gets set to bring all of its individual energy to the team competition that begins this coming January. And according to coach Brad Pearce, a team effort is mandatory.

“We have to have the whole lineup playing well to be successful,” Pearce said. “We had some great individual runs from many players and overall, I think my expectations were exceeded.”

During the preseason, the Cougars competed in five tournaments, all of which had individuals or doubles teams win or advance to rounds deep within each tournament.

It all began with the Utah Fall Classic in Provo, where the team continued a Cougar winning tradition with an all-BYU semifinals in singles and doubles, with the exception of John Pearce — son of coach Pearce. Pearce is currently a senior at Timpview High School. He teamed up with freshman Keaton Cullimore, and the two took home the doubles title for the second year in a row after defeating Spencer Smith and Francis Sargeant 9-7.

Smith took home the singles title after defeating Cullimore in the championship, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

A few weeks later, Smith also took home the Utah Invitational title after defeating Utah’s Dmytro Mamedov, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2.

At the ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla., senior Georgy Batrakov was the last Cougar standing in one of the biggest tournaments of the year advancing to the round of 16. Because of Batrakov’s No. 91 national ranking, he qualified for the qualifying bracket, getting the opportunity to win his way into the main draw.

“The All-American Championships was the highlight for me,” Batrakov said. “I beat four or five ranked guys. It was tough, but I still wish I could have done better. I had no more energy at the end of the tournament, but kept playing through.”

Three of Batrakov’s six matches went to three sets, and nine of those sets lasted for 10 games or longer.

Going into the ITA Mountain Region Championships the team was expected to go deep in the tournament, especially after several Cougars reached the final rounds of the tournament last year. Smith and Thomas Shubert won the regional doubles tournament, defeating teammates Evan Urbina and Patrick Kawka.

The furthest round the Cougars made this year was the doubles semifinals with Smith and Sargeant. The duo fell to Phil Anderson and Jaden Phillips from the University of New Mexico, 8-5.

“Making the semifinals of the regional doubles tournament was a great experience,” Sargeant said. “Spencer and I beat the fifth seed in the round of 16 and beat the fourth seed in the quarterfinals.”

In addition to Smith and Sargeant, two other doubles teams advanced to the quarterfinals.

Following the tournament, players said coaches talked with them and expressed how the team should have played better.

“The level of expectation is we should win,” Batrakov said. “We’re a top team in this region and everyone expects it.”

The Southern California Championships concluded the Cougars preseason, with the team finishing on a high note.

Kawka reached the finals in the singles draw, as well as the semifinals in the doubles draw, alongside Batrakov. However, true to BYU policy, the teammates withdrew from the tournament due to BYU’s no-Sunday play, allowing UCLA’s Alex Brigham and Clay Thompson to advance to the finals.

The singles championship, which was also scheduled for Sunday, was rescheduled for Monday after assistant coach Zach Warren talked with the tournament hosts, allowing Kawka to compete.

Kawka ended up losing a hard-fought battle to Thompson, 7-5, 6-4, ending his fall season with a record of 11-5.

“I felt like I played pretty good throughout the tournament,” Kawka said in a news release. “I was happy to see some of the improvements that I’ve been making this year.”

Batrakov and Cullimore also advanced to the singles quarterfinal round.

Now that the individual tournaments have concluded, the men’s team is gearing up for the start of the regular season as it seeks to make a statement in a new conference.

“We’re excited for the regular season,” Batrakov said. “That is what the preseason is all about.”

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