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Continuing to Move Forward: 2010 Men's Tennis
Optimism and excitement surround the Liberty men's and women's tennis teams this winter in their preparation for the 2010 spring season.
The women's tennis team has five returnees from last season's squad, which bested the school record for season victories, compiling a 15-7 record. On the men's side, the Flames return four members of a team which posted the second most victories in school history with a 13-10 mark.
Add to those accomplishments, the strong play of both squads in tournament play this fall and head coach Chris Johnson continues to move the overall Liberty tennis program ahead.
"After having things turn out so well for both teams, we want to keep the momentum going," stated the four-year coach. "This fall, we saw some great results. That's where we want to go with our programs."
Along with competitive teams on the court, the Lady Flames and Flames will enjoy their own home facility for the first time in two years. The new Liberty Tennis Courts located on the school's Campus North, not only gives the program a home, but has also adds to the enthusiasm surrounding the program.
"I didn't think our lack of home courts last year made much of a difference, but having them this year has picked up the morale of the kids," commented Johnson. "They have taken pride and ownership in the courts. People are coming out and watching practice and our kids are getting excited.
"Doing what we did last year without courts is a real tribute to the Lord and what He can do. Looking at year with having courts again and seeing the level of excitement our players have just makes it really worth it when we go out there."
A Look at the Flames
During each of its first three years under Liberty alumnus, Johnson, the Flames have improved their spring win total by at least four victories each spring. As mention earlier, Liberty fashioned a 13-10 record last season, up from 8-10 in 2008. The win total was the most by a Flames team since 1990, when a team, with Johnson as a student-athlete, recorded a 16-5 mark. In addition, the men's squad was ranked by the ITA for the first time in the 23-year history of the program at the end of the season, entering the listing at No. 155.
This season, the Flames' roster will be veteran laden. Liberty returns four players from last year with match experience, as all four played in at least 20 of the Flames' 23 spring contests in 2009. In addition, all four won at least 12 matches in spring to sport a winning ledger.
Heading the returners is a trio of seniors in Chad Simpson, Louis Steyn and Juan Reyes. Regular members of the Flames' line-up last year, the three each posted career highs in singles wins.
In his final season at Liberty, Simpson will enter the spring off a strong season in 2009. Playing mostly in the No. 3 singles slot in the Flames line-up, the Danville, Ill., native recorded a 13-8 mark. The senior seems to have picked up where he left off last spring, as he went 10-5 against a challenging tournament schedule this fall.
"Chad is one of two guys on the team who was here when I took over four years ago," stated Johnson. "He is a leader on our team.
"When you look at what a senior means to a team, you would put Chad's name and picture beside it as a definition. He is the kind of guy you want on your team. He is always motivating the other guys, holding Bible studies for the team and providing solid play. Chad is a leader on the court and off the court."
Another source of leadership for the men's team is Steyn. Last season, the senior returned from a redshirt year due to injury to post a 12-8 record in singles and paired with fellow senior Reyes for a 14-4 record in doubles. This year, he is serving as the team's captain.
"I always say you earn the right to lead," noted Johnson. "Louis played through some injuries last year. He just played all out despite being hurt with a match on the line last year and his teammates watching to win a singles match and give us the contest, 4-3. He has definitely earned the right to lead."
Completing the three seniors is the aforementioned Reyes. The Cali, Columbia native led the Flames last spring with a 15-7 record in singles, playing mainly in the No. 6 spot in the line-up. He also teamed with Steyn for the previously mention 14 victories in doubles, the most by any Liberty duo last spring.
"Juan is my other player who has been around for four years," stated Johnson. "He always brings a good attitude to the court," commented Johnson. "If you had to point to someone who consistently brings it under pressure, Juan is that guy for us."
The final returner on the men's team is Giancarlo Lemmi. In his first spring of collegiate tennis in 2009, the sophomore went 12-9 out of the No. 3 and 4 slots in the Flames' singles line-up. This fall, Lemmi went 8-6 in singles and paired with Simpson to go 9-1 doubles, capturing the Flight C bracket at the Old Dominion Collegiate Invitational, Oct. 2-4.
"Giancarlo really improved last season," noted Johnson. " This year, he is even stronger and faster, and will play in the top four places in the singles line-up."
Liberty has added three new faces on the men's side this fall in transfers Benjamin Wirth and Trystan Styat and freshman Siim Tuus. All three are expected to make an impact this spring.
"Ben is a transfer from William & Mary, and he was playing in their line-up in doubles and sharing a spot in singles," stated Johnson on the 6-3 junior from Virginia Beach, Va. "He is a good player and he wanted a more stable position. He felt led to come here and to have a guy come in like that during this summer is a real gift.
"Ben has a big serve, brings a higher level of play to doubles and a lot of consistency coming in as a junior in singles.
"Siim has a big forehand and when you see it, you can't believe he can hit so hard. Once he learns to put everything together, his potential is huge. He is already playing at a high level, so where he goes will be exciting to watch.
"Tristan is my ambassador for perservence. He transferred in last year and had to sit out. He will share time in the top two spots in our singles line-up with Siim."
With the additions, Johnson expects the Flames to have more depth this season.
"Chad and Louis, who have been playing in our two and three spots in singles, will be playing in our four and five positions this year. And, we had a good year last year.
"We are going to have even a greater level of play up and down our line-up this year. I wouldn't be surprised, if we don't get some wins this season against some who didn't think they were going to lose."