Aug. 19, 2011
The Tennessee Volunteers rounded out their fall tennis roster with the addition of three freshmen from near and far who recently completed the first week of their academic careers.
International standouts Mikelis Libietis from Cesis, Latvia, and Peter Nagovnak from Kraubath, Austria, join Knoxville-native Brandon Fickey as the latest players to become part of the Vols squad, head coach Sam Winterbotham announced Friday.
The freshman class is completed by Hunter Reese, who graduated a semester early from North Cobb (Ga.) High School and enrolled at Tennessee in January.
"Hunter and Brandon alone made us a top-five recruiting class," said Winterbotham, who is entering his sixth season at Tennessee. "That's how highly people thought of them, and now we're adding two guys we believe are as talented. We feel we've got a great group of freshmen here."
Even before the arrival of Libietis and Nagovnak, Tennessee's recruiting class of just Reese and Fickey was ranked fourth in the country by TennisRecruiting.net. All four figure to play key roles for the Vols this season with three seniors graduating and Rhyne Williams leaving after his sophomore year for the pro circuit.
Spectators will not have long to wait to see the Vols in action as the team kicks off the season Sept. 16-18 at home with the Tennessee Fall Tournament, which will be played at Barksdale Stadium and Tyson Park.
For a closer look at the three new members of Tennessee's squad:
Hometown: Cesis, Latvia
Libietis has been climbing steadily up the international doubles rankings the last two years, reaching a career-high No. 624 in April. He has won one Futures doubles title and has been a finalist in three other tournaments.
He also has international experience on the team scale. In a 2010 match against Greece, he represented Latvia in the Davis Cup.
"I watched him play and saw this incredibly talented guy," Winterbotham said. "He just impressed me right away. If Mikelis was a U.S. junior, he'd be classified as one of the best in the county. We think for someone his age, he is doing incredibly well. We're very excited about him."
While Libietis has been playing mostly ITF Futures events the last year, he did have a successful junior career. He reached the singles round of 32 at Wimbledon Juniors in 2010, but a majority of his results came in doubles. He was a doubles quarterfinalist at the 2010 Australian Open Juniors and made it to the semifinals of the Eddie Herr Junior Tennis Championships in Bradenton, Fla.
There's no doubt Libietis comes from a tennis family. His father, Valdis, coaches the sport, and his older brother, Matiss, plays college tennis at Hawaii Pacific.
Hometown: Kraubath, Austria
Nagovnak's name has not appeared on ITF junior rankings in quite some time, but when given the opportunity, the Austrian native has been a winner.
"Sometimes you get the high-profile recruits, and sometimes you get guys that sort of fly under the radar," Winterbotham said. "Peter fits into that category."
Nagovnak was one of Austria's top prospects before suffering a wrist injury while training at the national tennis academy, and since then, he has mostly played part time. Despite the limited match play the last few years, Nagovnak swept the singles and doubles titles in December at the Austrian Under-18 Indoor Championships in December 2010.
"He's really not played as extensively the last few years as guys we normally look for, but he's somebody that while playing minimally was the Austrian national junior championships last year -- and Austria's a pretty good tennis country," Winterbotham said. "He's someone we feel is going to be very, very good."
When it comes to off-court interests and hobbies, Nagovnak is probably already the team leader in that category. He has played the piano for eight years and the saxophone for five. He flies gliders and has served as a wide receiver for a football club back home in Austria.
Hometown: Knoxville, Tenn.
Fickey, who signed with the Vols in November 2010, completed a historic high school athletic career at Webb School in May while also excelling at USTA Southeast Region and national events.
Fickey, the top recruit in the Volunteer State, became the first player in Tennessee high school history to capture four consecutive state singles titles. He also led his team to another state team championship despite breaking his hand midway through the season. While recovering, the right-handed Fickey still pitched in to help Webb by playing - and winning - left-handed.
"Brandon is a phenomenal athlete and loves to compete," Winterbotham said. "He's one of the few U.S. juniors who really play high school tennis anymore. You could tell how much he really enjoyed competing for his team. We are certain he's going to fit in our program that way.
"The one thing I know about Brandon is that he's barely scraped the surface of his potential. With that being said, he was a top 25 US junior. This is a guy who has All-American potential."