Asked what the main goals would be for the Tennessee men's tennis team for the fall season, head coach Sam Winterbotham and junior Hunter Reese produced the same answer: to win.
"The program's goals don't ever change," Winterbotham said. "We want to compete for championships."
Reese echoed Winterbotham's single-mindedness.
"Our goal is to win the SEC, and then to be contending for the national championship," Reese said. "That's been our goal since last year, and I think that this year we've got a team to do it."
The Vols enter the fall season off an appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals in the spring. They are led by highly-ranked players such as All-Americans Mikelis Libietis, a junior who is currently the top ranked singles player in the nation by ITA, and Reese, who is currently ranked No. 24 by ITA. Libietis and Reese are also the top-ranked doubles team in the nation.
"He's just a great tennis player," Reese said of Libietis. "He's so powerful. He has all the shots. He's so talented."
While Libietis may be the bigger name of the coupling, Winterbotham also praised the player who completes that team, saying Reese has performed steadily throughout his whole career.
He just competes every day," Winterbotham said, "and he's going to continue to do so."
Despite the high ranking and other honors received by Reese and Libietis, neither is letting the success get to their heads.
"It doesn't really mean anything right now," Reese said. "It's based purely off of the final rankings from last year. Mikelis and I both know that in doubles. We still got to go out there and beat everybody, and hopefully we'll hold on to that lead. In singles, it's the same thing. Just got to keep working."
Reese is currently working back after breaking his wrist at the NCAA Championships last spring.
"I'm about a month into it now, playing again," Reese said, "and it's been tough to get back into it, but I'm excited to, and now I'm actually starting to work on stuff to get better, as opposed to getting the rust off."
Outside of Libietis and Reese, Tennessee will bring back veteran players such as senior Jarryd Chaplin, a second team All-SEC player from a year ago, and junior Brandon Fickey.
The Vols will also take the courts with four newcomers this year, but according to Winterbotham, they have carried themselves well since joining the team.
"We feel like we really hit the jackpot with character, and that's something we value very, very highly here," Winterbotham said.
While the players are the ones that win the matches on the court, nobody is more crucial to the Vols success than Winterbotham, who is entering his eighth season as the head coach of the men's tennis team and is the reigning ITA National Coach of the Year.
"I couldn't have imagined having a better coach," Reese said. "Everything he does with me, it works perfectly. He's helped me so much as a tennis player and even more so as a person."
The Vols open the season at the Southern Intercollegiate Championships in Athens, Ga. on Friday.