Tennessee men’s tennis senior Luis Valero’s career in Knoxville is winding down. Valero played his last regular season match on Sunday in a loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores.
It was a bittersweet moment for Valero, as he was the only senior honored on Tennessee’s Senior Day.
“It’s been a great experience,” Valero said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Valero’s impact on Tennessee cannot be overstated. He joined the squad in 2014, fresh off of a trip to the Youth Olympic Games representing his home country of Colombia. Early on, he established himself as a leader. As a freshman, he played significantly in Tennessee’s singles lineup, going 18-14 that year. During his sophomore season, Valero shone even brighter. He reached the No. 67 overall national ranking in singles, earned All-SEC Honors and played at the No. 1 spot for Tennessee.
The past few seasons, he has played at the No. 2 spot. Though he has amassed an impressive singles career, Valero’s claim to fame is doubles play, in which he is arguably Tennessee’s brightest star.
“He's played unbelievable doubles,” head coach Chris Woodruff said. “He's had some tough goes with it, but I'm really proud of him.”
The two-time Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar Athlete has an overall doubles record of 67-39, including a 25-11 record in his standout sophomore campaign.
Over the years, he has had many successful partnerships — none more significant, perhaps, than the time he teamed with Jack Schipanski. Valero and Schipanski carved themselves an impressive career for the Vols in the three years — Valero’s freshman through junior years — that they played together.
During their last two years together, they played at the number one spot for Tennessee in doubles. During his sophomore season with Schipanski, the two went 6-1 in the fall in and won the 2015 SEC Fall Classic, defeating fellow Vols Igor Smelyanski and Preston Touliatos in the process.
The two ascended to a No. 15 ranking in the nation that year. However, Valero’s junior year was when he really established himself as a standout name in collegiate tennis.
In the fall of 2016, he once again teamed with Schipanski to defeat Kentucky’s Beck Pennington and Enzo Wallart and capture the ITA Ohio Valley Regional Championships. That season, the duo reached No. 5 in the national rankings, Valero’s highest ranking in both singles and doubles in his career at Tennessee.
This season, he’s teamed up with three fellow Vols: Andrew Rogers, Timo Stodder and, ironically, Touliatos, the man he once beat with whom he has found the most success this season.
Currently the No. 16 doubles duo in the nation, the pair has led Tennessee to new heights and a top-25 ranking after a couple of very tough years.
Touliatos made a promise early on to Valero, and he has kept it so far.
“I told him I was going to try to send him out on top as best I could,” Touliatos said, “I’m not just playing for me. I’m also playing for him, trying to send him out with a high.”
Valero’s importance to Tennessee both on and off the court is evident to his coaches and peers. He has not only starred for the Vols but has led them and stuck with them through less-than-ideal seasons. Valero hopes to have one last shining moment in the SEC Tournament and in the NCAA Tennis Championships before he moves on from Tennessee into the next stages of his life.
Woodruff understands the impact Valero has had on Tennessee and what kind of hole his departure will leave.
“I’m really proud of him,” Woodruff said. “He’s a very good leader. He’s really grown up a lot. He cares a lot about this team — you can tell. He’s a really good person. We’ll miss him dearly.”