It has been a strong year so far for the Tennessee men’s tennis team.
The No. 19-ranked Vols currently have a 16-5 overall record and a 5-2 record in conference play. They are also coming off of a 4-3 win over the then No. 14-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.
The Vols will look to continue their trend of success against a struggling Auburn team on Friday. Head coach Chris Woodruff feels that the Vols will need to remain focused if they want to continue to have success in the final stretch of the season.
“Focus is the number one goal right now for the rest of the season,” Woodruff said. “Everybody from the staff to players to the trainers to anyone who is really involved in this program needs to have laser-like focus.”
Woodruff said one of his favorite things about his squad is its mental toughness and resiliency.
“Mental toughness is growing; it seems to really be growing,” Woodruff said. “Winning or losing, we’re starting to become a resilient team, and I think you have to be resilient when you lose and resilient when you win so you don’t become complacent.”
“I really like the resiliency of the team. We’re starting to really come together as a group.”
While it showed when the Vols bounced back from a 5-2 home loss to Texas A&M with the impressive upset win over the Georgia Bulldogs, that resilience will be tested when the team faces a hungry and desperate Auburn squad.
The Tigers currently hold a 0-6 record in SEC play, and they are also 0-4 in road contests. However, Coach Woodruff insists the Tigers won’t catch the Vols sleeping.
“We won’t overlook them,” Woodruff said. “The only danger is if we aren’t ready to play, it won’t be because we overlooked them. If we don’t play well, it will be because we didn’t prepare like we should have. As a coach, one of the things you have to guard against is not changing the way you prepare for a match, whether the opponent is undefeated or winless.”
Woodruff understands where Auburn is as a program right now, because he coached the Vols through similar rough times.
“We’ve walked where Auburn is right now,” Woodruff said. “Unfortunately for Auburn, they haven’t won a conference match. I know, from going through that phase since I’ve been at Tennessee, that every week is a new week and a new opportunity for you to succeed. I know how hard we were trying to win matches last year and the year before.”
“They played Vanderbilt last week...and I expect nothing but an Auburn team looking to get on the board and get its first conference win.”
While the leadership on the team is still a work in progress, Woodruff mentioned senior Luis Valero and juniors Preston Touliatos and Timo Stodder as players he utilizes to help lead the team.
“I call upon Timo, Louis and Preston because they are the ones who are the oldest,” Woodruff said. “They are the ones who have been in this situation before, and they have the most experience and understand what we are about to embark on down the stretch.”
Valero echoed what his coach said and understands what it will take for the team to have success in the match against Auburn.
Like Wooodruff, he is not sleeping on Auburn.
“I think Friday should be a pretty tough match,” Valero said. “They have been playing better lately, but I feel like if we play as good as we have been playing, we should win.”
The Vols will host Auburn on Friday, March 30 at 6 p.m. in the Goodfriend Tennis Center.