When Jeff Beaman, head coach of the UI men’s tennis team, took the position four years ago, he made it a goal of his to have a nationally ranked team at UI in three years. Last year, his third as coach, the Vandals came close, but failed to achieve that goal.
“We had opportunities and matches that could have gone either way or matches we could have won,” Beaman said. “We were regionally ranked and had a winning record, but this is the year I want to take that step.”
Thanks to an aggressive recruiting campaign and the return of several key players, Beaman’s dream of a nationally ranked tennis squad me soon be realized. Joining veteran UI players Atrem Kuzentov, who finished last year ranked 20th in singles, and Stanisla Glukhov, who finished last year 12th in double play along with Kuzentov, is a batch of young talent.
In addition to adding transfer senior Adrian Simon, a nationally ranked player from TCU, the Vandals added transfer junior Lachlan Reed, who comes from the University of Queensland and is a highly-ranked player in Australian tennis leagues, as well as incoming freshman Abid Akbar, who is ranked No. 3 in Pakistan. Beaman expects all three players to have an immediate impact on the team.
With a large roster, the Vandals have not only talent, but depth on their side in their upcoming season. Since everyone is competing for just a few spots, Beaman said that the players have stepped up to the challenge, from the seniors to the freshman. Even though practice officially doesn’t start until September 9, many of the players have taken training into their own hands.
“They (the players) started working out from the day they arrived.” Beaman said. “They have a strong work ethic and a desire to get better.”
Beaman is pleased that the players have taken such a competitive drive, as it allows him to focus more on match play and tournament preparation. Since the Vandals have a tournament only three weeks after their first practice, Beaman said it’s important early on to figure out doubles pairing and to prepare the incoming players for tournament play.
“You need a good team dynamic to have a really good year,” Beaman said. “We are going to do a lot of match play (early in the season) and play practice sets because they have to compete really soon.”
It’s likely that Kuzentov and Glukhov will again be paired together for the upcoming season. At the end of last year, the two players finished ranked 12th in doubles, and compiled a 16-10 record, which they hope to improve on this year. Despite the figures, Beaman said he doesn’t have any concrete double pairs yet.
The Vandals squad looks to have a high ranking in singles play this year. In addition to Kuzentov, Simon, ranked as high as No. 54 in singles, and Reed, who compiled a 43-26 career singles record, will be looking to bolster the Vandals singles play. Akbar looks to figure high into the ranking as well, despite being only a freshman, as does sophomore Sam Lyons, a top junior prospect who red-shirted for Portland State last year.
Reed, who brings an impressive record and a breadth of experience, also has one other advantage that Beaman hopes will strengthen the team; Reed is left-handed. Beaman explains that this allows his team to practice taking serves from a left-handed player, which are drastically different than a right-handed player’s serves.
“Many teams only have guys that play right handed, so they don’t get practice returning serve from a left-handed person, which moves in a very different way than a serve from a righty,” Beaman said. “Having Reed helps us be prepared to face left-handed players from other teams.”
Reed, who is from Australia and played tennis on what Beaman calls “some of the toughest events in the world,” replaces departed southpaws Tim Huynh and Hugh McDonald, who graduated last season.
Even though every member of the squad has rankings and looks good on paper, Beaman is cautious about throwing around predictions. He is excited to see how the team will perform, when they travel to Spokane, WA for the season opener on October 2. With only four tournaments scheduled for the fall, Beaman will work any kinks the team may have to prepare them for a national rank run starting in the spring season, when the Vandals will face against nationally ranked teams Fresno State, Boise State and Hawaii. Beaman contends that it will be a tough, but very balanced schedule.
“We have a lot good of talent and depth,” Beaman said. “We have great potential this year.”