Jan. 4, 2011
Fresh off their SEC title and appearance in the NCAA Championship match a year ago, the Tennessee Volunteers open the 2011 spring season ranked third nationally by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, which released its first team poll Tuesday.
The Vols also retained their hold on the No. 1 national ranking in singles, but this time it is sophomore Rhyne Williams occupying the top ranking for the first time in his career. He replaced senior John-Patrick Smith, who dropped from first to 21st in the rankings. Senior Matteo Fago had not been in the top 125 since the beginning of his junior year and enters the rankings at No. 38th after a 10-win fall season.
Recapping the Team Rankings
By all accounts, the Vols are coming off one of the best seasons in program history under fifth-year head coach Sam Winterbotham. Tennessee has returned five of its six regulars in the singles lineup, including All-Americas Smith and Williams. The senior core of the Vols' squad - Smith, Fago and Boris Conkic - have led the Vols to 77 dual-match victories in their careers, the most wins in a three-year period at Tennessee.
The Vols finished last season with a 32-1 record and captured the SEC regular-season title for the first time since 2000. They started the postseason by becoming the first team in conference history to win the SEC Tournament Championship by shutting out all three opponents on their way to the trophy. Tennessee went on to reach the NCAA Championship match for the third time in program history before falling to Southern California 4-2.
With five players ranked in the top 30 in singles, Virginia is ranked No. 1 nationally. Two-time defending champion Southern California is ranked second.
The national team rankings are determined by a coaches' poll during the early weeks of the season. The first computer rankings are released March 1. The computer formula used by the ITA ranks teams based largely on performance against highly-ranked opponents, penalizing teams for any losses and giving an increased bonus to any victory over a good team on the road.
Williams Reaches No. 1
Williams ended the fall season the best way possible: with a victory. He defeated Southern California's Steve Johnson to become the third Vol to win the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships in Flushing, N.Y. During his five-match tournament run, he defeated four opponents now ranked in the top 10.
Williams, a Knoxville native, ended the season with a 13-3 record. He rose from 21st in the preseason September rankings to fist nationally. Prior to Smith rising No. 1 in the country in April 2010, associate head coach Chris Woodruff was the last top-ranked player for the Vols in 1993.
By his lofty standards, Smith did not have the best fall performance of his career, he did finish the first half of his senior year with a 12-6 record and reached the final of the USTA/ITA Ohio Valley Regional Championships in October. In doing so, he qualified for the national indoor tournament for the third time in his career, quite the accomplishment because the tournament fields only 32 players.
With the 12 wins during the fall, Smith has 122 in his career, which moved him into fourth on the Vols' singles wins list.
Like Williams, Fago wrapped up 2010 with a tournament win, taking the top-flight title at the Crimson Tide Fall Invitational. Perhaps his most notable accomplishment during the season was his performance at the ITA All-American Championships, where he played through qualifying all the way to the round of 16, defeating three ranked opponents along the way. He was 10-3 during the season.
The Vols leave town Wednesday for the Rainbow Warrior Challenge in Honolulu and return to Knoxville in time to host the SEC Coaches Indoor Championships from Jan. 14-17. Tennessee is hosting the annual event for the first time in 13 years, this time in the newly renovated Goodfriend Indoor Tennis Center. The tennis center expanded from four to six courts during the off-season.