The BYU men’s tennis team returned home to Provo Jan. 26 after almost two weeks on the road. The Cougars opened their 2020 season facing several nationally ranked teams, knowing they were starting with a challenging schedule.
“We swung for the fences hoping for a grand slam, with our bases loaded with four great teams. We would have been happy coming away with a triple or a double. We ended up with a single, but I am proud of all of our guys dealing with injury and everyone stepping up and doing their part,” head coach Brad Pearce said.
Pearce talked about the program’s goal of being a top-25 ranked team, which takes building the program by playing ranked opponents because it is important for the progression of the program as a whole. While the team is working through several injuries, BYU still felt confident in their experiences on the road and how it will help the team throughout the remainder of the season.
BYU started its series of road matches on Jan. 15 against then-ranked No. 15 UCLA in Los Angeles. This match was a tough loss for BYU with UCLA sweeping the matches and winning 7-0. Although BYU played with multiple matches going into the third set, UCLA ended up taking the win.
BYU then travelled to Washington D.C. to take on the George Washington Colonials. Coming off of the loss against UCLA, BYU came into the match winning two of three doubles matches. In the No. 3 slot, Sam Tullis and Ben Gajardo had a victory over the Colonials. In the No. 1 slot, Sean Hill and Mateo Vereau Melendez, also won their doubles match, leading BYU to win the doubles point.
During the singles play, the matches were close, and the Cougars win came down to the last match. The matches had back-and-forth play throughout the singles point, with many going into the third set. Gajardo went on to win his singles match, which tied BYU with George Washington 3-3.
To close out the match, freshman Jack Barnett won after a long battle in the third set, scoring the final point of the match. This final point gave BYU the 4-3 win and its first win on the road during the 2020 season.
“My teammates were getting me pumped up,” Barnett said. “I was very tired towards the end of my match and they were just telling me get on your toes, get on your feet, get moving. And then that last point I hit a very good shot and the guy missed it and I turned and looked at all of the guys and they were running towards me. It was just a really great feeling.”
Hill lead the Cougars, playing in both the No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles position throughout the duration of road travel. As a leader on the team, Hill said that on the road he works to lead by example to keep morale high and help maintain a positive attitude being away from Provo.
“I think whether you are a senior or a freshman, everyone on the roster plays a specific role on how you can lead,” Hill said. “I set a goal for myself to be a role model for the team both on and off the court. On the court it is about performing well and staying calm under pressure; off the court I try and listen to everyone’s ideas and see where I can help my teammates whenever I can.”
BYU continued on to play Old Dominion, Harvard and Minnesota, all of which have nationally recognized programs.
The rigor of this schedule was not unknown to the Cougars, and coach Pearce explained that the team was involved in the decision of their schedule and they wanted the challenge. Although the Cougars record is 3-4, Pearce talked about how the focus of the away matches were to challenge the team and to grow together. Going forward, the Cougars hope to take the lessons learned from the start of their season and continue to play a continuously rigorous schedule.
“At the end of the day, we are all looking at these matches. We came up short, but we believe and we hope that having had these matches hopefully prepares us and we all are trying to be better, both coaches and players alike,” Pearce said.