The Tennessee tennis team had to grow up in a hurry last weekend at Wake Forest.
The Vols' best player Igor Smelyanski sat out both matches with an unspecified injury, forcing younger players to assume a bigger role. Tennessee split its two matches over the weekend, defeating Cal Poly 4-2 and losing to host Wake Forest 4-0. The tournament was originally supposed to be on Saturday and Sunday but was pushed back to Sunday and Monday due to inclement weather.
That did not seem to affect the team, however.
“We were prepared to play two matches this weekend,” sophomore Luis Valero said. “It just got extended. The only thing we had to worry about was classes.”
A young team became even younger when the Vols moved Valero and last weeks SEC freshman of the week Timo Stodder to the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in singles. Both players responded well to the change, recording wins in the victory over Cal Poly.
“I don’t care about my position in the lineup,” Stodder said. “I just want to play for the team and want to help the team win the match whether I’m playing two or three.”
“Somebody gets injured, so someone has to go in and fill that place,” Valero added. “We are starting to see what positions we are going to play at different matches, so I think it was a good experience.”
The team also got wins in singles from freshman Srdjan Jakovljevic and doubles from the teams of Jack Schipanski and Valero and Stodder and Marshall Sullivan.
Tennessee struggled Monday against Wake Forest. The Vols got up early in doubles and looked poised to get the doubles point, however, they were not able to close things out. They were then shut out in singles where they did not win a set.
“It’s definitely something to learn from,” Valero said. “They’re a very good team. We came in with a good plan. We just have to be a little better at closing the match out. We should have done things differently, but they are things you learn about for next matches.”
The Vols can apply those lessons as early as next week when they face two ACC opponents in No. 24 ranked Duke (1-2) and No. 11 Wake Forest (4-0) again next week.
Duke comes in having lost to San Diego in its region of the ITA Kick-Off weekend. The Blue Devils will face No. 7 Illinois and No. 21 Northwestern this weekend before facing the Vols.
Wake Forest comes in just winning its region of ITA kickoff weekend over the Vols, qualifying for the ITA championships. The Demon Deacons will face No. 25 Oklahoma State and No. 2 Oklahoma before facing the Vols. The Vols hope to rebound against these two opponents.
“We still practice well,” Stodder said. “Now we have to focus on the weaknesses from last weekend. Igor is probably back from his injury, and I see a lot of chances then if Igor is coming back in doubles and singles.”
They will face Duke on Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. and Wake Forest on Feb. 7 at 1 p.m.