After a nice 7-0 win over Sacramento State to open the season last week, the No. 10 men’s tennis team is back on the court tomorrow and Saturday, hosting a pair of matches as part of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend at Taube Tennis Stadium.
One of 15 host sites around the country, Stanford is hosting No. 27 San Diego, No. 29 Texas Tech and No. 26 Texas A&M with San Diego and Texas Tech squaring off Friday morning before Stanford and the Aggies meet in the afternoon. The winners will play Saturday to determine who advances to the National Team Indoor Championships, which will be held Feb. 15-18 in Seattle.
Stanford’s pod is definitely one of the toughest in the draw, with each team ranked in the top 30, but the Cardinal will benefit from being at home and has some momentum after last week as well as sophomore Robert Stineman’s run to the Consolation Final at the Sherwood Cup earlier this week.
Head coach John Whitlinger was impressed with Stineman during the preseason. “Robert has improved,” Whitlinger said. “He knew what he had to work on over the summer, and to his credit, really got out there and put in the time to work hard and get better. I think Robert is primed for a pretty good year as well, and I’m ready for some big things from him.”
If the Card is to advance this weekend, however, Stineman’s classmate John Morrissey will also need to step up. Morrissey is the lone nationally-ranked player on the roster right now, and Whitlinger said he was hopeful that even with just a year of varsity experience Morrissey could thrive.
“John had a good fall,” Whitlinger said. “He played well at the ITA All-American Championships and ended up winning a round after getting through the qualifying portion. John is getting better and better. He’s coming off a big year and I’m interested in seeing what he can do higher in the lineup.”
It won’t be easy against the Aggies.
“We are very excited to get the season underway,” Aggie men’s tennis head coach Steve Denton said. “Our team has been beating up on each other during our preseason camp. Coach (Bob) McKinley and I are very impressed on how well our young team has competed thus far against each other. We have had some very spirited practice sessions.”
The Aggies return seven members from last season’s 14-15 squad that advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament before falling to the eventual national champions in USC. Headlining the group of returners are sophomores Jeremy Efferding and Jordan Szabo, ranked No. 87 and No. 103, respectively, in the preseason ITA singles rankings.
In addition, junior Junior Ore and sophomore Behzad Minavi, who claimed the singles (Ore) and doubles (Ore/Minavi) championships at the Rice/MET Indoor Tennis Tournament last weekend, look to use that victory as a springboard for the upcoming season. Other notable returners with varsity experience are senior Niall Angus, junior Alberto Bautista and sophomore Jackson Withrow.
Regardless of who steps onto the court for A&M, Stanford is eager to return to relevance in the tournament, having last captured the hardware at this tournament in 2002 with a 4-3 win over Illinois.