The Liberty men's tennis squad (10-10, 4-4 Big South) enters the Big South Men's Tennis Championship tournament as the No. 5 seed. The Flames will take on No. 4 seeded Gardner-Webb (10-11, 4-4 Big South) on Thursday at 2 p.m.
Alan York of the Liberty Flames Sports Network had the chance to catch up with head coach Chris Johnson to discuss the matchup, as well as what it means to be hosting the event.
2016 Season Recap The Flames enter the contest having most recently defeated Campbell on Thursday by the final score of 4-3 in Buies Creek, N.C. Eddie Gutierrez clinched the match in singles play for Liberty, besting Jonathan O'Neal in three sets, 6-7(1-7), 6-4, 6-0. The Mexico native's victory placed the Flames ahead of the Camels, 4-2, with one match remaining.
Sam Matheson continues to pace the Flames in singles play this season. It was announced earlier this afternoon that the New Zealand native has cracked the Top 100 in the ITA National Ranking, coming in at No. 94. Matheson enters the contest with a 17-1 overall record. Gutierrez ranks second on the squad in singles wins with 12, while Egon Samaai ranks third with 10.
The Flames boast four players with double-digit wins in doubles play this spring. Samaai leads the way with 12, while Matheson ranks second with 11. David Bush and Diego Castano have each recorded 10 doubles victories, coming in at third on the squad.
Chasing History Samaai is currently tied for second on Liberty's all-time singles wins list (73) with Shea Thomas. Samaai needs two more wins this spring to pass former standout Siim Tuus for the most singles wins in program history. Samaai collected his 76th doubles victory against Campbell on Thursday, which ranks third in program history for doubles wins.
Matheson currently has 27 singles wins this season, including fall competition. The New Zealand native is tied with Shea Thomas for the most singles wins in a single season in program history. With a victory on Thursday against Gardner-Webb, Matheson would set the new program record with his 28th singles victory this season. Matheson's lone loss this spring came against the Runnin' Bulldogs on April 1 in Lynchburg, Va.
Scouting the Opponent Gardner-Webb was one of three Big South teams with a 4-4 record in conference play. Due to the tiebreakers, the Runnin' Bulldogs received the No. 4 seed over Liberty and Winthrop. Gardner-Webb defeated Liberty in the last meeting by the final score of 4-3 at the Sports Racket in Lynchburg, Va., on April 1.
The Runnin' Bulldogs are paced by Maximilian Scholl in singles play with a 14-7 overall record, including 7-1 in conference play. Scholl was the lone competitor to have defeated Matheson, this spring. Jonathan Walker has notched 11 singles victories this season, ranking second on Gardner-Webb's squad.
What's next? The winner of Thursday's contest will compete on Friday at 11 a.m. against the winner of No. 1 seeded Coastal Carolina and No. 8 seed Radford/No. 9 seed Longwood.
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