Both Tennessee men and women’s tennis teams start off the latter part of the 2006-07 season this weekend.
Intercollegiate tennis normally has two seasons within an academic year. The fall season starts in September and lasts until the end of the calendar year. Fall tournaments target individual players, and most teams consider them an opportunity to prepare their players for the spring. On the other hand, the spring season, which begins after the winter break and ends in May, is purely a team format.
“The spring is our main season,” UT men’s coach Sam Winterbotham said. “College tennis is a team sport, and it’s the beauty of it.”
The Vols begin the spring season ranked No. 41 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association team rankings. UT hired Winterbotham in the midst of the season in October, giving him a little more than two months to prepare his team for the spring.
Junior Bobby Cameron, who is ranked No. 24 in the first singles poll of the year, leads the Vols along with fellow junior Kaden Hensel. Hensel is ranked No. 35 in the preseason poll. Together they are ranked fifth in doubles, a career-high spot for both players.
“I brought with me a philosophy that has been successful for me at previous schools, and what I’ve done is to spend time to instill that into my team,” Winterbotham said. “My goal is for this program to win (NCAA) championships. I strongly believe that our team will win championships.”
While the men’s team is trying to rebuild itself under a new coach, the women’s team expects to develop its young talent in order to survive through tough SEC competition. The Lady Vols have three freshmen and a sophomore on their roster.
“We are a young team and very talented,” UT women’s co-head coach Sonia Hahn-Patrick said. “It’s a good thing, but young ones have to work hard and step up.”
Senior Blakeley Griffith is ranked No. 12 in singles according to ITA, and fellow classmate Victoria Jones came in at No. 87. They are expected to pull the young players with their experience.
As a team, the Lady Vols earned a No. 31 spot in the preseason poll after having a solid fall season. The team’s overall goal is to finish in the top 10 or 15 in the country.
“The key for us is for our young players to step up and gain experience quickly,” Hahn-Patrick said. “That’s going to make a big difference.”
This weekend, the men will head to New Orleans to take part in the SEC Coaches Indoor Championships — its final individual tournament. The Lady Vols will play in the Virginia Invitational as they open up their spring season.