With an outside perspective, one might’ve expected the Tennessee men’s tennis team to take a step back in 2020. The Vols were facing tough tasks that often lead to rebuilding seasons, but instead Big Orange has reloaded and after the season’s first month, they find themselves back in the nation’s top 25.
Despite departures from All-American’s Timo Stodder and Preston Touliatos, the Vols find themselves 9-1 and ranked No. 16 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll.
“It says a lot about our culture,” senior Scott Jones said. “Obviously we lost some great players, but we brought some new guys in and the guys have stepped up. I think that’s a testament to the coaching staff and the culture.”
After failing in the ITA Knoxville Regional championship, Tennessee’s lone loss, the Vols have won three straight.
Tennessee handled both Georgia State and Mercer easily, sweeping each Peach State foe, 7-0. Tennessee then played just one of its three matches that hasn’t been a sweep this season, outlasting Wichita State, 4-3.
The matchup was tied 3-3 heading into the last singles set and Big Orange leaned on their graduate senior, Giles Hussey, to edge out the Shockers.
"It was a good college tennis match," head coach Chris Woodruff said following the win. "Giles (Hussey) is old and has a lot of experience and has been in a lot of these matches. If we're going to have guys out there playing, he is certainly one we want out there for us."
Tennessee’s 9-1 record matches its mark at this time a season ago. However, the Vols aren’t comparing themselves to last season’s team nor where they stand in early February.
“May is when we'll look and see where we are,” Woodruff said. “Until then, we're going to win and we've already lost, will probably lose again, but we just keep trying to do the very best we can and have positive practices."
Despite his downplaying of the Vols’ hot start, Woodruff is pleased with his third team’s start to the season.
"We're getting better," Woodruff said. "It isn't anything special, it's just good solid work. Trying to work for our points, trying to come together a little bit better, trying to move a little bit better and trying to get a little bit stronger together."
After eight straight games at the Goodfriend Tennis Center, Tennessee hits the road again this weekend traveling to Durham, North Carolina to take on Duke. Last season, Tennessee swept Duke in a neutral site and the Big Orange hope to repeat that success in one of their final tune-ups before the start of conference play.
“We never stop trying to get better,” Woodruff said. “Don’t set any big lofty goals of what we’re focused on. ... We’ll be prepared and we’ll kind of evaluate after the match. It's a commitment to good physical tennis.”
Tennessee will close out its non-conference slate on February 21 when the Vols host Georgia Tech at the Goodfriend Tennis Center. The matchup with the Yellow Jackets concludes Tennessee’s strong non-conference schedule as the Vols played a trio of top 25 foes and four power conference foes.
“I think our schedule is very good,” Woodruff said. “We have a lot of ranked opponents. We’ve played on the road already, we’re playing on the road next week. By the time the SEC season starts I think we’ll be battle tested.”