Sept. 17, 2012
A much more experienced squad took to the tennis courts last week when the Vols opened the official fall practice.
This time last year, the Vols' roster featured just one returning starter in singles or doubles and four freshmen promised to feature prominently in the lineup.
Roll forward one season, and experience is again a strength for the Vols as Sam Winterbotham enters his seventh year as head coach. All six starters are back, including All-SEC sophomores Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese. Edward Jones, Tennessee's only starter a year ago, is now a senior.
Sophomore Brandon Fickey, junior Jarryd Chaplin and senior Taylor Patrick round out Tennessee's returning lineup from 2012. All six started a majority of the dual matches, with Libietis, Reese and Jones all leading the team with 20 singles wins each.
The fall schedule kicks off Friday with the Baylor Invitational in Waco, Texas. The Vols' lone home event during this semester is the Tennessee Fall Invitational, which runs Oct. 12-14.
NOW THEY ARE SOPHOMORES
Libietis, Reese and Fickey were the mainstays in the top three courts in Tennessee lineup as freshmen.
The national rankings speak to the Vols' spring success. Libietis, who started every match at No. 1 singles and doubles, is ranked No. 15 in the ITA national preseason rankings, and Reese is No. 34.
This is shaping up to be the first full fall season for Libietis and Reese. The two missed action last fall with injuries, though they still won the regional doubles title to qualify to the season-ending USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships. Libietis also swept the top-flight singles and doubles titles at the Tennessee Fall Invitational.
NEWCOMER, BUT NO BEGINNER
There's only one additional name on the Vols' roster this fall, and that's John Collins.
While new to Rocky Top, Collins is hardly new to the college tennis scene. The senior lefty transferred from Maryland after the men's tennis program was cut this summer and has played in multiple national tournaments, playing in the NCAA Doubles Championships in May with Maros Horny.
Collins has the second-most career wins on the team to Jones, with 56 in singles and 61 in doubles. He also joins Patrick as one of two lefties on the eight-man roster.
This season, Collins adds immediate depth to the doubles lineup. He already has a tournament title to prove it. He and Reese won the ITA National Collegiate Summer Circuit Championships in early August and the two are ranked No. 6 in the ITA preseason poll.
Tennessee starts the fall with two doubles teams ranked in the top 20, a luxury the Vols haven't enjoyed since starting two top-10 teams for matches in 2010.
Collins and Reese are the top-ranked team at No. 6, while Libietis and Chaplin checked in with a tie for 17th nationally. While the two did not play in dual matches together last spring, Libietis and Chaplin had no problems winning the doubles title at the Tennessee Fall Invitational.
Both teams will be in the main draw of the ITA All-American Championships, while Jones and Fickey will play together in qualifying.