Center, No. 5 Men's Tennis ready for competition
Jan. 13, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
Under head coach Michael Center, the Texas Men’s Tennis program has come to understand what success looks and feels like. Center has led the Longhorns to the NCAA semifinals or better in three of the last five seasons, including the program’s first trip to the NCAA Championship match in 2008.
The Longhorns open the 2011 season ranked No. 5 in the ITA preseason poll and begin dual-match play on Saturday against No. 19 California on neutral indoor courts in Tulsa, Okla.
“I know we’ll learn a lot about our team right there,” Center said. “We don’t play many teams where we know we’re going to win the match. We play tough matches every time out. There’s not a whole lot of feeling your way into the season. If you look at our schedule, there aren’t many givens. You’ve got to be ready to go.”
The Longhorns return four of six singles starters from the 2010 squad that finished at No. 4 in the final ITA team poll and put UT in the NCAA round of 16 for a fifth consecutive season. Center’s roster features players from South Africa, England, Bulgaria and India, in addition to American players from Texas and Colorado.
The continuing strength of the Longhorns throughout Center’s 11-year tenure has been continuity and chemistry, and even with a diverse blend of nationalities, the Longhorns are a united bunch. This time of year actually helps in building that team bond.
The Longhorns have been on campus since early January, even though the spring semester does not begin until Jan. 18. The team has been able to take meals together, walk to practice together and create cohesion.
“I like to start a little early. It brings everybody together,” Center said. “I feel like we have guys who are good teammates and good people. It’s a pretty close group right now.”
And that fact will certainly help the Longhorns as they begin their season. With five sophomores and two freshmen on the roster, Center says one question right now is how the younger guys will respond to the battles of dual-match play. Even though tennis is tennis, the anxiety of playing for your team can cause a change in atmosphere.
“You don’t really know how they’ll respond to it until we crack it open,” Center said.
Steady senior leadership from All-American Ed Corrie could help bring some calm to the Longhorns’ daily work ethic, but more than anything, Center is curious how the competitive personalities on his team will blossom in these heightened situations.
In March, the Longhorns play No. 2 Southern California, the defending national champion, in Los Angeles and then host No. 1 Virginia before launching into Big 12 play.
“You don’t want to have any real down years, particularly here at Texas. You want to grow each year,” Center said. “I want to see our guys exuding a confidence that no matter what is going on out there, they’ll find a way to get it done.”