The Tennessee men's tennis team remained undefeated this past weekend in Knoxville at the ITA Kick-Off, improving its record to 6-0 on the season.
The Vols outlasted Michigan State, 4-1, on Saturday and defeated Virginia Commonwealth, 4-0, on Sunday at the Goodfriend Tennis Center, ensuring the team's spot in the ITA National Team Indoor Championships to be played in Houston, Feb. 14-17.
"We work hard – these guys work their tails off," head coach Sam Winterbotham said on Sunday. "And it is good work, it is really good work. They are a great group."
The team's cornerstones – Mikelis Libietis, Hunter Reese and Markus Kerner – all played big roles in the team's two victories this weekend.
Juniors Libietis and Reese – the top-ranked doubles players in the nation – recorded victories in both their doubles matches.
Freshmen Markus Kerner won both his doubles matches and both of his singles matches to give his team the edge.
"Our opponents were pretty good," Kerner said after the win over Michigan State on Saturday. "We raised our level, returning and servings were good. Everything worked for us. I am really happy with the way we played our doubles.
"It was the best match so far. It was really good."
Libietis and Reese also had success in their singles matches, with both wining their singles matchups in Saturday's match; Reese also won his singles match again on Sunday.
Despite Libietis' and Reese's success this past weekend, Winterbotham said it was just another average weekend for the tennis duo.
"He (Libietis) is one of the best players in the country, if not the best player in the country," Winterbotham said. "The fact that we have another player on our team that is also now pushing to be one of the best players in the country, which is Hunter Reese. Mikelis knows what he means to this program; he knows what his teammates and coaches expect of him. So today's just quite honestly par of the course.
"That is what happens when you are one of the best; people expect you to be one of the best every time. They all have aspirations to be the best, they all want that attention."
Libietis confirmed the thoughts from his coach.
"I played really good today and my serve was there," the junior said. "That helps me a lot. (Reese and I) are just so comfortable playing each other. I know where he is going to be, he knows where I am going to be, and it just comes naturally.
"We are so used to playing together, and we have a lot of confidence. When we go out there we know we can beat anyone in the country."
Despite the team's two victories this weekend, both Winterbotham and the team acknowledged there is room for improvement.
"My goal is for us to get better every match," Winterbotham said. "I think we can say that we are competitive in every position, but we are clearly not playing with the mentality that is going to allow us to be successful in these next couple of weeks. We are getting better."
Tennessee takes two road trips against Oklahoma State – Jan. 31 at 4:30 p.m. – and Tulsa – Feb. 2 at 1 p.m. – before returning home again to face Duke on Feb. 7 at 6 p.m.