The No. 20 Tennessee men’s tennis team continues to defy all expectations.
Following an underwhelming season last year, the Vols earned their 27th at-large NCAA Tournament bid in the team’s history following a 20-8 season, its first bid since 2015.
With a strong season behind it, Tennessee travelled to Chapel Hill, N.C. at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center, the University of North Carolina’s courts, to take on UNC Wilmington in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Vols seemed to find no problem with the Seahawks, defeating their foes 4-0 and advancing past the first round of the tournament for the first time since 2014.
Not only did Tennessee blank UNC Wilmington, it did not lose an individual match. The Vols got off on the right foot, sweeping the doubles point away from the Seahawks with a very strong performance.
The No. 7 duo in the nation, Luis Valero and Preston Touliatos of Tennessee, downed the Seahawk pairing of Raphael Calzi and Ignasi de Rueda, 6-1. Valero and Touliatos have been an incredibly strong pairing for Tennessee this season, rising to one of the highest ranks either athlete has had in their respective careers.
The pair has played so well that they earned a spot in the NCAA Doubles Tournament.
Following the first doubles win, Tennessee’s Andrew Rogers and Scott Jones kept the ball rolling with a victory over the pair of Agustin Savarino and Michael Copeland, 6-3.
With two matches won and the doubles point clinched, Timo Stodder and Adam Walton’s doubles clash went unfinished.
Singles play was much of the same story, with the same trend of Tennessee dominance shooting upwards.
Luca Wiedenmann got it started for Tennessee in individual play, easily dispatching his Skyhwak foe, Josh Hublitz, 6-1, 6-0.
Stodder, who is ranked No. 16 in singles play and has earned a bid in the NCAA Singles Tournament, had a fight on his hands in the first set against Torres from UNC Wilmington, stretching out a 6-3 lead.
The second set went a little more smoothly for Stodder, who downed Torres 6-2 to extend Tennessee’s overall lead to 3-0. Needing just one more point, Tennessee was in an ideal spot to find more NCAA Tournament success than it has had in four years.
The finisher came from Valero, a senior playing among the last of his matches as a Vol. Known more for his doubles prowess than his abilities in singles, Valero showcased his dominance in that areas as well, taking down Savarino 6-3, 6-2 to secure a Tennessee victory in the first round of the tournament.
The other three singles matches involving the Vols went unfinished.
A much taller task than the Seahawks awaits the Vols in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as they will face the No. 7 home team North Carolina Tar Heels on Sunday at 2 p.m.