2006 Men's Tennis Season Outlook
Jan. 17, 2006
The 2006 season for the Washington men's tennis team marks somewhat of a changing of the guard. Welcoming more newcomers then returners, and graduating three of the top players to ever compete in the program, the Huskies will have a new look when they hit the courts in January.
Washington's three departed seniors from 2005, Alex Vlaski, Christoph Palmanshofer and Peter Scharler, helped put UW tennis on the national collegiate scene. According to 12th-year head coach Matt Anger, the 2005 Pac-10 Coach of the Year, the trio may be irreplaceable. But thanks to the foundation that Vlaski, Palmanshofer and Scharler helped build at UW, Anger hopes his "new" squad will pick up where last year's team left off.
The 2006 squad certainly has a strong foundation, coming off one of its best seasons in program history. The Huskies won a share of their first-ever Pac-10 title and advanced to the NCAA Round of 16 for the fourth time in five seasons. Vlaski finished his career as the all-time winningest Husky in singles, and became UW's first three-time All-American. Vlaski, along with Palmanshofer and Alex Slovic, earned All-Pac-10 acclaim.
Individual accomplishments aside, the squad's Pac-10 title had significant meaning to Anger and associate head coach Chris Russell, who guided the Oregon men's program for nine seasons before coming to Seattle last year. Since the merging of the North and South divisions of the Pac-10 in 1998, the Northwest schools were somewhat of an "outcast of the conference" according to Anger. And for a pair of longtime Northwest tennis coaches it was a significant moment to be able to guide the first non-California team to a Pac-10 team championship (only Stanford, USC UCLA had won Pac-10 team titles).
"To be able to hold up the conference trophy at the end of season was very special," Anger said.
The 2006 Husky squad loses three seniors but at the same time doesn't have any returning. It will be up to the junior class of Alex Slovic, Daniel Chu and Mike Ricks, along with sophomore Andy Kuharszky, to shoulder the leadership role and help integrate the newcomers.
Anger will especially look to Slovic and Kuharszky to take on the leadership role.
"I think they are our natural leaders," Anger said. "Andy's only a sophomore but we've made the two of them co-captains. Alex is a winner on the court. Last year he had a couple losses coming off injury but then after that he didn't lose a (dual singles) match from the middle of March on. Andy is a dream team person. Every day he's working hard. Every thought he has is the team's best interest."
Joining Washington this year will be junior transfer Klaus Jank, and freshmen David Chu (brother of teammate Daniel), Andy Gerst and Patrik Fischer. Two more newcomers - Jean Noel-Insausti and Pierre Metenier - will be added to the roster at the start of winter quarter in January.
"I'm hoping our returning guys are able to improve and the incoming guys are able to take those spots (vacated by the seniors) and combine in different ways to succeed," Anger said.
So far through the fall season, Anger is happy with the way the new and returning players are coming together.
"I'm very impressed with how our team is gelling," he said. "Just working together, the attitudes have been great and everybody's working hard. I really feel that everyone is getting along well and nobody is battling so much for their spot that they're holding anyone back. Everybody is very genuine with their work and working towards the team's best interests."
Still, with over half of the team new to college and the rigors of year-long NCAA Division I tennis season, there will still be a learning curve.
"I think our new guys are very talented but they don't understand yet how the season works," Anger said. "They don't really understand the priorities yet and the length of the school year. Those are things that they are going to have to get as much as possible for us to improve on last year."
With such a new look team, and only a few fall tournaments to go by, Anger sees the team's depth as being its top strength - even better than last year. Although too early to set his dual singles lineup in stone just yet, Anger will look to Slovic to play at the top. Slovic, who finished last year ranked 50th in singles, played at both the No. 2 and No. 3 spots behind Vlaski as a sophomore.
Slovic's numbers speak for themselves. Despite missing the first month of the season with three cracked ribs, he compiled a 21-7 singles record including a 13-3 mark in dual matches. His impressive play earned him a nod on the All-Pac-10 second-team and he had a season-high singles ranking of ninth, becoming the third Husky to ever achieve a Top-10 billing. He racked up 11 wins over ranked opponents. Not a bad sophomore campaign for the 2004 ITA National Rookie of the Year.
Backing up Slovic will be Daniel Chu and Kuharszky to round out the top three spots. Chu played anywhere from No. 2 to No. 4 singles last year, but primarily in the fourth spot. He recorded an 11-9 dual record, 14-12 overall. Chu's strength was definitely his doubles play with Slovic last year and Anger hopes that translates into success in singles this year.
"Daniel has shown he can be consistent and successful with doubles," Anger said. "This year I hope he's not putting too much pressure on himself. I don't think he finished the year at NCAA's as well as he would have liked. He really also has an eye on the singles and just being out there in the lineup. We know he's going to be a starter, it's making sure he's successful throughout the season and maybe more successful as the season progresses so he can finish strong with Pac-10 Conference play and at the NCAA Tournament."
Kuharszky is coming off a strong freshman campaign after compiling a 20-12 singles record, 13-9 in dual matches. He tied for second with Vlaski on the team with 20 wins and played anywhere from the No. 4-6 spots in the lineup. He went 5-1 at the No. 4 singles slot, 5-5 at No. 5 and 3-3 at No. 6.
Of the four players, Ricks is the only one with Division I college experience. Ricks went 8-4 in singles last year, and a perfect 4-0 record in the No. 6 spot in dual matches. He will be looked upon to step up in his junior year.
"He might be our most improved player over the summer," Anger said of Ricks. "He's really competing well. He is without a doubt in the mix this year and if we were playing today, he'd be starting today."
Being newcomers to the team, Jank, Gerst and David Chu are a little bit of an unknown, but have added some experience in fall tournaments.
Jank hails from Freiburg, Germany, where he attended the University of Freiburg. He led his college team to a third-place finish at the German College Team Championships last year.
"I am excited about Klaus Jank," Anger said. "He is a wonderful person. The other reason I'm excited is he hits a wonderful ball. The adjustment for Klaus is getting used to hard courts. All of collegiate tennis is played on hard courts and he's used to playing on clay, and in the winters on carpet."
A native or Redondo Beach, Calif., Gerst brings outstanding prep credentials to the team. A nationally ranked singles player, he also was billed as high as 13th in the Under-16 Southern California rankings. Gerst was the CIF singles champion as a junior and runnerup as a senior.
"I think Andy's going to surprise a lot of people," Anger said. "He's got an all-around game. Especially with his doubles, he can get out there and play right away- maybe sooner than other people would have predicted. I'm pretty hopeful with Andy that he's going to be able to stay on that, keep working hard and keep improving. I think he'll make a big jump."
Chu, the younger brother of Daniel, will also be competing for a spot in the starting six. "David plays very different from his brother," Anger said. "In singles it will be good for him to be out of the shadow of his brother if possible. He's an all-court player and he does some things as well as anybody, but he has other areas of his game that really need to improve and those kind of held him back in our first tournament."
For doubles, the No. 1 duo is undoubtedly the Slovic and Chu tandem that is ranked fifth nationally in the preseason. The pair won the 2005 ITA Regional crown and competed in the National Indoor Championships, after advancing to the Pac-10 doubles final last season.
How the other two doubles duos end up working out, might dictate wither Slovic and Chu stay together.
"Chu and Slovic were very successful at the end of last season so we will probably start with them together, but we have to make sure we're doing well enough in the other two spots," Anger said. "If we're not, we might have to split them up to strengthen the depth at the doubles lineup. Hopefully we can keep them together because if you can do well at the top, that always bodes well for the doubles point."
As of fall tournament time, Anger had Jank and Kuharszky playing together and Gerst and Ricks as the other pair. Both duos are a bit of an unknown having never played together at the collegiate level until fall. David Chu could also figure into the doubles lineup at some point.
The Huskies will be challenged by tough non-conference and Pac-10 opponents on this year's slate. Washington has the advantage of opening the season with seven straight dual matches at home, beginning with Idaho on Jan. 20.
In fact, UW remains at home until hosting the 2006 USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships, Feb. 17-20.
"Being home that much does bode well for us and I think it's also good for our new guys to get a few matches under their belt with the college format," Anger said. "Then when we go out on the road, they'll be much more prepared for it."
The highlight on the calendar is undoubtedly the National Team Indoors that UW will host at the Nordstrom Tennis Center and the Seattle Tennis Club.
"Every match is important to us, but I'd be lying if I said that we're not pointing towards the National Team Indoors on a number of levels," Anger said. "First just hosting the event, making sure we're going to put on a special event. But then also for our team and the program. It will be exciting for our fans to see our team playing against the nation's best."
Among the team's selected to compete will be last year's National Team Indoor Champion Baylor, last year's runner-up Virginia and the defending NCAA champion UCLA Bruins. This year marks the fourth time UW will host the event. Following the Team Indoors, the Huskies play just three of their next 11 matches at home. UW opens the Pac-10 season at Cal (March 31) and Stanford (April 1).
The Huskies do have the luxury of hosting their last three Pac-10 duals before postseason play begins with the Pac-10 Championships.
With any luck, the Huskies will find themselves in the same spot they were in last year at NCAA Tournament time - thanks in part to the solid foundation that was built by their former teammates and carried on by their new ones.