May 21, 2013
URBANA, Ill. -- Sam Winterbotham and Chris Woodruff swept the ITA national tennis coaching awards Tuesday, and sophomore Mikelis Libietis was also honored before the start of the NCAA individual tournaments.
Winterbotham was named the Wilson/ITA National Coach of the Year, and associate head coach Woodruff earned Tennessee's first-ever ITA Assistant Coach of the Year honors.
In the player's banquet later in the day, sophomore star Libietis was named the ITA National Player to Watch, an honor given to a player expected to compete for national titles in the year to come. He is currently ranked No. 1 in singles and doubles.
This season marked a fast rebound for the Vols back into the top ranks of college tennis after losing five of six starters from the 2010 and 2011 SEC Championship seasons. The Vols (28-9) finished the year Saturday by reaching the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships for the third time in four years and have been ranked as high as fifth nationally.
Woodruff is currently in his 11th season as a coach for the Vols and has helped guide the team to unprecedented team and individual success over the last five seasons. He has coached three individuals to the No. 1 national ranking in singles: Libietis (2013), Rhyne Williams (2011) and John-Patrick Smith (2010). With his doubles program, the Vols have boasted a top-ranked doubles team in four of the last five years.
A standout for Tennessee himself, Woodruff is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his own run to the NCAA Singles Championship in 1993.
"Chris has been instrumental in helping the players develop during his time here at Tennessee, but none more impressive than this year," Winterbotham said. "He has helped Mikelis improve his game to the No. 1 ranking in the country in singles and doubles. He has also done an incredible job helping the team reach return to the top 10 in the nation. He is one of the best coaches in the collegiate game."
In his seven seasons as head coach at Tennessee, Winterbotham has helped lead the Vols back to the highest levels of college tennis. The team has reached the NCAA Championship field all seven years and has been ranked in the top 10 in five of those seven years.
The Vols have made impressive strides this year under the guidance of Winterbotham and Woodruff and volunteer assistant coach Ben Testerman. With nearly the same lineup as a year ago plus senior transfer John Collins, the Vols leapt from a final team ranking of 20 a year ago to sixth entering the NCAA Tournament. The team improved at every spot in the lineup, with six players logging at least 20 victories.
Winterbotham is the second coach in program history to earn the prestigious coaching award. Mike DePalmer was voted coach of the year in 1990.
Libietis has put together an impressive second year in orange and white on his way to being voted the ITA National Player to Watch. The leader at the top of the lineup, he is currently 37-6 and became the first Vol to hold both the No. 1 singles and doubles rankings at the same time. He was also voted the SEC Player of the Year.
He is the second Vol to be named the ITA Player to Watch. Lefty star Shelby Cannon earned the honors as a junior in 1987. He received a wild card into the U.S. Open a few months later.
Libietis, the No. 1 seed, plays Virginia's No. 3 player Mitchell Frank when the tournament starts Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern. Reese takes on Pepperdine's Alex Sarkissian at 2 p.m.
In doubles Thursday, Libietis and Reese play Duke's Michael Redlicki and Jason Tahir.
Libietis will be back in action for the first time since injuring his knee and ankle in the Vols' 4-0 quarterfinal loss to Virginia on Saturday. He has a 37-6 record this season and entered the tournament ranked No. 1 nationally. Frank is playing today in the NCAA team final.
Reese is 31-8 and is off to his best season. Sarkissian is the No. 3 player for the Waves.
Libietis and Reese are 13-2 this year, including 1-2 since the NCAA tournament started.
John Collins and Edward Jones are alternates for doubles and have an outside chance of making the field if several teams withdraw.