Two BYU tennis players to compete in national tournament

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The tennis season hasn’t even started yet, but two of BYU’s players will be competing in one of the most important tournaments of the year, with events┬ábeginning Oct. 1 in Tulsa, Okla.

The 2012 Intercollegiate Tennis Association Men’s All-American Championships is one of the three major tennis tournaments hosted in the realm of college tennis. Junior Patrick Kawka and sophomore Keaton Cullimore will be playing against the other invitees over a week-long event that will determine not only preseason awards and rankings, but the overall prestige of the program as well.

“I think it’s an honor for them, and it’s an honor not only for this program but for the university,” head coach Brad Pearce said. “This event is analogous to playing in one of the Grand Slams if you’re a pro. It’s well deserved and a great honor for Keaton and Patrick to be involved.”

Over the last few years, the BYU tennis program has developed into a strong competitive program in its league and across the country, reaching the top 25 in 2010 for the first time in more than 30 years.

BYU tennis player Patrick Kawka hits the ball during a match against last year against Weber State. BYU won 7-0.

“We came after 2010, where they set a very high standard for our team,” Kawka said. “We’re kind of the next generation, and we’re expected to improve on that, so we’re here trying to get better results than every year before us.”

The winning tradition has continued since 2010, as the Cougars posted a 14-8 record during the regular season, advancing through the West Coast Conference Championships to the semifinal round before losing to nationally ranked Pepperdine.

“It’s great; there’s a lot of energy here, and we all work hard,” Cullimore said. “It’s great to be a part of a program like this. We’re trying to set a new standard.”

Tournament qualifying rounds, in which both Kawka and Cullimore will compete, begin Oct. 1. Kawka is in the qualifying singles round, where 128 players compete for a spot in the Main Draw round. They need to win three rounds in order to advance. The top 16 players from this round will advance to the Main Draw.

Kawka and Cullimore will team up to compete in the Qualifying Doubles round, where they and the other 63 teams will try to advance to be one of the eight who compete in the Main Draw Doubles. The tournament will conclude on Sunday, Oct. 3, meaning if one or both of the BYU players make it to the final round, they will likely have to withdraw because of the university’s policy of not playing on Sundays.

“Patrick had a great year last year and has shown he is capable of beating anybody in the country on any given day, so hopefully, he’ll have to pull out next Sunday,” Pearce said. “As a doubles team, they do everything well. They’re very solid, and I’m excited about their prospects.”

There originally was another BYU doubles team slated to compete in the same qualifying rounds, but an unfortunate wrist injury to sophomore Francis Sargeant forced him and junior teammate Travis Fillmore to withdraw.

Both Kawka and Cullimore are looking forward to the challenge of competing with the best in the nation next week.

“Everybody in there is playing the same game, and we’re all top collegiate athletes, so it’s going to be a tough battle no matter if we play in the finals or the qualifying first rounds,” Kawka said. “Everyone’s going to be tough to play against.”

However, their preparation has helped them feel confident in their skills.

“I feel like when we’re focused mentally we can play as (well) as anybody there,” Cullimore said.

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