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Men's Tennis Year in Review
Collegiate coaches for all sports can attest that getting the right mix of student-athletes on their roster to produce a winning team is a difficult task. It may even be more difficult for team sports which are a combination of individual efforts, such as tennis. For Liberty Head Coach Chris Johnson, this year's men's tennis program provided a good mixture of experience and leadership along with talent and youth. The combination of these qualities led to one of the best seasons in Liberty history.
The fall began with a trio of freshmen joining the Flames' program. The incoming class of Jorge Azuero, Wayne Harrell and Dillon Segur gave the men's team its first recognition from TennisRecruiting.net, garnering the 19th spot on the site's annual top 25 listing for mid-major recruiting classes.
The team also made its move into the Cook Tennis Center in September, with the facility serving as the operations center for both of Liberty's tennis programs.
The Flames then competed in some of the region's toughest fall tournaments, coming away with several strong performances. Opening at UNCG's Spartan Invitational, the team combined for a 28-17 record, with Harrell and Tristan Stayt going unbeaten. At the 44th annual Southern Intercollegiate
Championships, Shea Thomas earned an impressive win, knocking off No. 3 seed Vikram Hundal of Georgia Tech in the Division II singles draw. Liberty then concluded with three more tournaments, including the ITA Atlantic Regional, where junior Siim Tuus advanced to the Round of 32.
Turning to the spring, the Flames welcomed new assistant coach Ryan Fitzwilliam, just prior to the first weekend of competition.
After alternating wins and losses to open the year, the Flames reeled off seven straight victories, the third-longest win streak in program history. The second win of the span was the program's first-ever victory over a ranked opponent, as Liberty took down No. 64 Oklahoma State in a neutral-site match at the University of Tulsa.
Back-to-back losses set the Flames back to 10-5, but the squad wrapped up the regular season by winning five of its final seven matches. The 15 wins marked the program's second best single-season win total. In 1990, the program recorded 16 wins, as they played a mixed schedule in their earliest years of becoming a Division I program.
Liberty concluded the regular season with a 3-4 conference record to garner the No. 6 seed for the Big South Men's Tennis Championships. The Flames faced No. 3 seed Coastal Carolina, with the Chanticleers edging out the Flames, 4-3, in a match which took place until well past midnight.
Prior to the year-end conference tournament, Flames Tuus and Giancarlo Lemmi earned all-conference recognition. Tuus was named to his third all-conference singles team, while Lemmi and Tuus were tabbed as an all-conference doubles tandem. Lemmi also took his second nod to the Big South All-Academic Team. Senior Mandeep Yadav and Azuero, who each went 9-2 on the year, received recognition for being the conference's flight winners, in the No. 5 and 6 singles slots.
The Flames racked up 90 singles victories on the year, as five players notched double-digit win totals for the first time since the 1990 season. Tuus led the way, going 14-7 in the lead position, while Lemmi was close behind with 12 victories on the year. Segur, Thomas and Harrell all claimed at least 10 victories as well. Liberty's heralded freshmen had a strong showing on the season, combining for a 30-15 record in singles play.
In doubles, Liberty combined for a 48-20 record, led by a pair of duos. Lemmi and Tuus recorded a 12-4 mark, while Stayt and Thomas posted a program record for best win percentage for a doubles team in a single season, going 14-2. Both tandems went 4-2 in Big South action, and also held win streaks of at least seven matches each.
Next season, the Flames will certainly miss their three graduating seniors from this season – Lemmi, Stayt and Yadav. Lemmi concludes his career at Liberty as the program's all-time wins leader in both singles (72) and doubles (79). He also holds some of the top winning percentages in both formats of play.
Despite losing three seniors, the Flames will look forward to another strong season in 2012-13. Tuus will return for his senior campaign, in addition to a strong supporting roster including a balance of juniors and sophomores.