“We’re exited to be here,” head coach Sam Winterbotham said. “The NCAA championships are a great event and I’m happy our guys are getting to experience it. Baylor has a terrific team and is very well coached. We are going to have to play our best to advance, but I think we are ready for the challenge.”
The Vols (23-3) have been led this season by the Australian duo of Kaden Hensel and J.P. Smith. Hensel has played at the No. 1 position in the singles lineup for most of the season and has an overall singles record of 13-9. UT’s lone senior is ranked 35th in the current ITA singles poll and is one of 64 players invited to play for the NCAA singles championship, starting May 22.
Smith is tied with fellow freshman Boris Conkic for the team lead with 28 singles wins. The Townsville, Australia, native is ranked 24th in the current ITA singles poll and also has been invited to the season-ending NCAA singles tournament. Smith was named SEC Freshman of the Year and also earned a spot on the All-SEC first team.
Hensel and Smith also team to form one of the nation’s top doubles tandems. The duo is 22-5 this season and ranked fourth in the ITA rankings. The Big Orange tandem will be a 5-8 seed in the 32-team doubles championships that begin after the NCAA team title has been decided.
Baylor (24-8) is making its seventh straight appearance in the round of 16. The Bears have played one of the nation’s toughest schedules this season, including 15 teams invited to the NCAA tournament. Baylor is led by senior Lars Poerschke and Denes Lukacs. Poerschke is 17-7 this season and ranked eighth in the most recent ITA singles poll. Lukacs has 42 singles wins this year and is ranked ninth in singles.
Tennessee leads 3-0 in the all-time series with Baylor, having last met the Bears in 2000. Winterbotham was an assistant coach for that Baylor squad during his 1999-2002 tenure in Waco. The Vols current mentor also spent three more months as a Baylor assistant in 2006 before being named to his present position in Knoxville.
UT’s last appearance in the round of 16 was 2005, when the Vols lost to eventual national champion UCLA by a 4-1 count. The last time Tennessee advanced into the national quarterfinals was 2002 during a stretch of three straight NCAA semifinal appearances.
The UT-Baylor match is scheduled to begin at noon Central time (1 p.m. Eastern). Live scoring can be found at UTsports.com. Friday’s winner faces the winner of top-ranked Virginia and 16th-seed Michigan in a Sunday noon (1 p.m. Eastern) quarterfinal matchup.