Sept. 24, 2012
BY AMANDA PRUITT
As the first weekend of the season proved, the Vols are no longer freshmen.
Now older, stronger and more experienced than a year ago, the Tennessee squad set the tone for the fall season by reaching the singles final and taking home the doubles trophy at the Baylor HEB Intercollegiate in Waco, Texas.
Perhaps no player exhibited that improving trend in singles better than sophomore Hunter Reese, who was one of three freshmen to start in the top half of the Vols' lineup last spring.
Reese, ranked 34th in the ITA preseason rankings, advanced to his first career singles title match by taking care of opponents in an efficient manner, round after round, in the large 64-player draw.
Battling 80- and 90-degree temperatures throughout the tournament, Reese rattled off a career-best five matches in a row - all in straight sets - before falling to seventh-ranked Mate Zsiga of host Baylor 6-3, 6-3 in the final.
"It was a good weekend," Reese said. "I played well the whole tournament from the first match on and just really concentrated on working on what I needed to work on. I feel like I served well all weekend too."
With the five wins on opening weekend, Reese already matched his entire fall win total of his freshman season, which was limited by injury. Match experience and improved fitness have paid dividends for the sophomore Vol this time around.
Reese had never faced a top-10 opponent before Sunday's final. Now, he's keen on continuing his upward progress and earning that chance on a regular basis.
"Last fall, I started well too, but I feel much fitter now," Reese said. "I've worked hard to get much more fit in the last year and have kept it up, which has helped my game. If I continue to improve, I'll get more opportunities like this to play against more guys in the top 10."
Reese finished his freshman season with a 20-14 record while playing No. 2 in the dual match lineup for the Vols. He steadily climbed the national singles ranking as the season progressed, ending the year at No. 70. He was a perfect 6-0 on the road against SEC opponents.
LAST LOOK: BAYLOR HEB INTERCOLLEGIATE
Winning a trophy is always the goal, but the Vols enjoyed a solid opening weekend across the board. All six Vols competing picked up at least one singles win and all three doubles teams reached the quarterfinals.
"Overall, I'm very pleased with this tournament," head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "We got exactly what we needed out of the weekend at this point, which was a lot of matches. I felt like all our guys improved a lot from their first match to the last."
Record Watch: Jones hit his 70th career doubles victory in the title match and now has a 70-35 record. He'll likely finish his Tennessee career ranked in the top 10 in doubles wins. His former doubles partner, Matteo Fago (2008-11) is No. 10 with 83 wins.
Two Titles Each: Jones and Chaplin now both have two career doubles titles. Jones' other collegiate title came in the top flight of the 2010 Elon Invitational with Tennys Sandgren. Chaplin won the inaugural Tennessee Fall Invitational last year with Mikelis Libietis.
FIRST LOOK: ITA ALL-AMERICAN
The longest collegiate tournament, the ITA All-American Championships, kicks off Friday once again in Tulsa, Okla. The event, which serves as the first of three national collegiate majors, runs from Sept. 29 until Oct. 7.
While it looks like a daunting 10 days, the All-American is split into three smaller tournament with winners of one draw progressing into the next. Pre-qualifying runs Friday and Saturday, qualifying is Oct. 1-3 and the main draw is Oct. 4-7.
With a roster full of freshmen, the Vols did not qualify anyone for the main draw of the All-American last season. This year, Tennessee is sending two singles players and two doubles teams automatically to the main draw.
Reese will be joined in the singles main draw by fellow sophomore Mikelis Libietis, who will be making his season debut and will likely be seeded thanks to his No. 15 ranking. Reese and senior John Collins should also be seeded in doubles, while Libietis and Chaplin will play together in the main tournament.
Here's a quick reference for who's in and who's qualifying: