After having their first team collegiate tennis practice Friday, three true freshmen on UT's men's tennis team stepped onto the court later that day to compete in their first collegiate tournament, the Southern Intercollegiate Championships in Athens, Ga.
Freshmen Markus Kerner, Sean Karl and Sunay Bhat, along with senior Colton Norton, all suffered the same fate in their singles matches on the first day of the tournament: a loss.
Karl and Kerner later teamed up in the Division I doubles draw, winning their first ever college doubles match against McLean/Taylor of Murray St.
However, the duo lost to Kentucky's Ellefsen/Pennington in the Round of 32.
Bhat and Norton were defeated by Samaai/Segur of Liberty in the Division II Round of 32.
The following day failed to fair any better as Kerner, Bhat and Norton all played consolation singles matches, and all lost in straight sets.
Sunday proved to be a better day for the Vols. Bhat and Kerner, both in their second consolation match, earned their first singles victories in straight sets, while Karl lost his first consolation match.
Coach Sam Winterbotham was not pleased about the way his new players performed. After taking some time to think about it, he came up with a grade for the tournament.
"I'd say it was an F, and an incomplete," Winterbotham said. "You know, it's very hard to grade these guys on their first draw. Every time I've seen the freshmen go out and play his first real match or his first tournament, they're just very nervous and not relaxed and not able to play how they play."
However, the tournament was not a complete disaster. Winterbotham will use it as a lesson to teach the young players.
"It's not about winning and losing for us right now," Winterbotham said. "It's about preparing the way we want you to prepare so you can be successful. ... The great thing is that it's their first tournament. They get to understand that. Now they know what the standards are, and we can move forward."
The Vols will continue their season this Thursday in Nashville at the SEC Fall Classic – a tournament that normally takes place in the spring but has been moved to fall because of scheduling issues and a lack of attendance.
This will be the first action of the season for most of the team, including senior Jarryd Chaplin from Sydney, Australia, who knows it is a difficult way to start off the season.
"Well, effectively it's the best in the SEC, and the SEC is obviously one of the toughest conferences," Chaplin said, "so that gives a bit of an indication of the kind of people we'll be playing this week. You don't ease your way into a tournament like this. You've got to be ready on Thursday."
Winterbotham relishes the opportunity for his players to get elite competition this early in the season.
"What I've heard is most of the schools are bringing their players," Winterbotham said, "so it's going to be a great draw. It's going to be a really, really good tournament. ... So you're going to be able to go and get great matches, great competition in the fall – early in the year – which I think is awesome."
Chaplin immediately denied the suggestion that there could be any sluggishness to start after not competing in a college match since May.
"No, not at all," Chaplin said. "This is what you hang out for over the summer. This is the fun stuff. I've only got one year left so I'm chomping at the bit to get into it."