July 13, 2010
By Amanda Pruitt
From the Southeastern Conference title won in front of a capacity crowd in Knoxville to their appearance in the NCAA Championship match, there's no doubt about it: the Tennessee Volunteers had a special kind of season.
Tennessee returned the finals of the NCAA Tennis Championships for the first time in nine years and ended the season with a 31-2 record in addition to a No. 2 national ranking. The team hoisted their eighth SEC regular-season trophy and their third conference tournament title.
As you'd expect, the Vols took home numerous individual accolades as well, with three All-America winners and five earning All-SEC honors. What's more impressive is that they managed all the on-court success while pacing the entire UT athletic department in team grade point average during the spring semester.
Need some more statistical proof? Here are 10 reasons why the 2010 Tennessee tennis season was unlike any other.
Three Vols earned ITA All-America honors for just the second time in program history. John-Patrick Smith became Tennessee's sixth three-time All-America and has the opportunity to become the program's first four-time winner as a senior next season. Senior Davey Sandgren was named All-America for the second time in doubles, and Rhyne Williams completed his incredible freshman season by reaching the NCAA singles round of 16 to claim the award.
It's not so surprising that Tennessee enjoyed similar tremendous team success the last time three Vols earned All-America honors. Call it a correlation.
Doug Flach, Tim Jessup and Brice Karsh formed the All-America trio who led the 1990 Vols to a 34-1 record, SEC regular season and conference titles, a national No. 1 ranking for a time and the program's first trip to the NCAA title match.
For the first time ever, five Vols were named All-SEC: Smith, Williams, Davey Sandgren, Boris Conkic and Tennys Sandgren. Smith and Conkic have earned all-conference honors in their first three years at UT. Davey Sandgren had not been All-SEC since his freshman season in 2007.
Tennessee also swept the major postseason honors. Smith, who led the Vols at the No. 1 position in singles and doubles, was named SEC Player of the Year as well as SEC Tournament MVP. Williams shared freshman of the year honors with Vanderbilt's Ryan Lipman, and Sam Winterbotham was named coach of the year.
Perfection is a difficult achievement, especially in the SEC. Tennessee strung together its first undefeated SEC season since 1990, going 11-0 and clinching the regular-season conference title with a 6-1 home victory over Georgia. The Vols won the SEC Tournament a week later.
Tennessee has now won eight SEC titles (1951, 1966, 1970, 1980, 1986, 1990, 2000 and 2010) and three SEC Tournament championships (1990, 2002 and 2010).
The Vols shut out opponents in 16 of their 31 victories, a trend that did not change once the postseason rolled around. The Vols became the first school in SEC Tournament history to win the title by recording three consecutive sweeps, defeating LSU, Mississippi and Florida 4-0. Tennessee also won three NCAA Tournament matches in 4-0 fashion.
The Vols demolished the previous school record of 10 shutouts in a season, which was set in 1965. They also tied the 1964 record of five consecutive shutouts, doing so to open the year.
As the tired saying goes, there's no place like home. The Vols won all 16 home matches in 2010 to extend their winning streak in Knoxville to 23 matches. They have not lost at Goodfriend Tennis Center or Barksdale Stadium since falling 4-2 to Kentucky in a non-conference indoor match Feb. 21, 2009.
The Vols won 31 dual matches in 2010, marking just the second time Tennessee has won 30 or more games in a year. The record of 34 wins was set in 1990 under the guidance of Mike DePalmer Sr., the program's winningest coach (299 victories from 1981-94).
Tennessee won the doubles point in 32 of 33 matches in 2010. By comparison, the Vols won only 19 of 30 doubles points the year before.
Without question, the Vols assembled one of their strongest doubles lineups ever, with two pairings ranked in the top 10 nearly the entire season. Smith and Davey Sandgren ended the year ranked third and won 24 matches at the top of UT's lineup. Conkic and Williams played at No. 2 in the lineup and were ranked as high as fourth nationally with a 25-1 dual match record.
Tennessee solidified its lineup as the season progressed, thanks to junior Matteo Fago and freshman Edward Jones. They started playing together during the SEC season and won nine of their last 10 matches together. Fago and Jones were named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team for their 4-0 performance at No. 3 doubles.
41: Part I
The number 41 was so telling for the Vols that it deserves two entries. The first is this: Sandgren and Smith finished 41-9 to break the 24-year-old school record for doubles victories in a season. Their final four wins came in the last days of the May as they marched back to the NCAA doubles final before falling to Virginia.
Sandgren and Smith finished their doubles career together with 80 victories over three seasons, 73 of those wins coming in the last two years.
Byron Talbot and Shelby Cannon had held the season doubles record for some time, winning 40 matches together in 1986. No surprises here: they also hold the career record for doubles victories as a pairing with 102 from 1985-88.
41: Part II
Smith and Williams both finished with 41 singles victories, marking just the second time a pair of UT teammates have logged at least 40 wins in a season. Williams ended the year 41-7 to set the freshman winning percentage record at .854 and recorded the second-most wins by a first-year player.
Winterbotham has a 94-21 overall record in his first four seasons at Tennessee, which places him comfortably on track to become the fastest coach in program history to reach 100 victories. Thirty-five of Winterbotham's wins have come in SEC play.
The Vols have won more matches from 2008-10 than in any other three-year period in program history. Since Smith, Conkic and Fago joined the program as freshman three seasons ago, Tennessee has progressively improved each year and has won 77 matches in that span.
Most players don't reach 110 career wins in four seasons, yet Smith has already arrived at that milestone in both singles and doubles after just three years. Bear in mind too that many of those wins have come at the top of the Vols' lineup and in the nation's biggest fall tournaments. He spent nearly a month at No. 1 in the national singles ranking and was ranked No. 1 in doubles through the fall with Sandgren.
Talbot is still UT's career leader in both categories with 161 singles wins and 131 victories in doubles. Smith will start his senior year just 21 wins away from tying Talbot in doubles. Smith currently ranks seventh in singles and fourth in doubles.
And the Bonus Number: 1,139
It's best to end with an off-the-wall statistic, right? Well, here it is: senior managers Joel Peters and Rob Weir strung 1,139 rackets during the entire season, with 743 of them coming during the spring alone. In 2008-09, they strung only 653 rackets the whole year.