Center guiding No. 17 Men's Tennis into new chapter
Jan. 28, 2012
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- This particular January afternoon bathed the Penick-Allison Tennis Center in golden sunshine and gentle breezes typically reserved for spring, but Texas Men’s Tennis coach Michael Center looked perfectly in place, wielding a racquet and spewing nuggets of wisdom at center court.
Center has constructed a program that is enviable if for nothing more than its competitive consistency. UT has been among the top-25 nationally for 96 consecutive editions of the ITA College Tennis team rankings, a streak which dates back to 2006.
Under Center, the Longhorns have appeared in the program’s first-ever national championship match and also reached the final four on three occasions. And yet, the 12th-year head coach found himself on this cloudless afternoon with the seemingly simple task of feeding balls to the 6-foot-2 Jacoby Lewis, a freshman from Birmingham, Alabama, who returns balls over the net as if fired from a cannon.
Center is focused on harnessing Lewis’ power into a package of weight-shifted balance. The Longhorns, ranked No. 17 in the most recent team rankings, have graduated four All-Americans in the past two years, and as UT readies to host this weekend’s ITA Kick-off, Center is content to teach and watch his team grow.
“Every time we step out there, we learn a lot about ourselves,” Center said. “I had a pretty good idea what Ed Corrie was going to do, or what Kellen Damico was going to do. Now, we’re looking for our next group of All-Americans.”
As one of the top 16 teams in the country at the end of last season, UT was automatically selected as a host institution for the ITA Kick-off. The Longhorns face Maryland on Saturday and either No. 21 Texas Tech or No. 31 Michigan on Sunday. Winning teams advance to the ITA National Team Indoor Championship in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Feb. 17-20.
Despite the unproven potential on UT’s roster -- the Longhorns feature four freshmen and no seniors -- Center remains committed to one of the most difficult schedules in the country. UT travels to No. 2 Virginia on Feb. 3 and then moves on to No. 18 North Carolina on Feb. 5. Top-ranked and defending national champion Southern California visits Austin on Mar. 13.
“We are trying to be the best team in the country, and the only way I know how to do that is to play a tough schedule,” Center said. “So, whoever is on the team better be ready to play good competition.
“I’m seeing a lot of good things out of these younger guys. It’s a new look, and I feel like that’s exciting. They’re really improving in front of my eyes, and I think as the year goes on, we’ll see that our future is bright.”