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Big South Men's Tennis Championship Preview

April 20, 2011  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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The Flames head into the 2011 Big South Men's Tennis Championships looking to begin a run for the title.

The Flames head into the 2011 Big South Men's Tennis Championships looking to begin a run for the title.

At the end of a rollercoaster regular season, the Liberty men's tennis team is travelling to Rock Hill, S.C., looking to make a run at the 2011 Big South Men's Tennis Championships.  The event gets underway Thursday with three matches, while play will finish Saturday with the championship match.

Simply the fact that the Flames held both a five-match winning streak and a four-match losing streak speaks of the highs and lows of the season.  Add to that three 7-0 shutout wins and Liberty's men have shown that they're a team that can put it together on any given day.  Liberty finished the regular season with a 9-11 record, which included two close 4-3 losses and several other matches that could have gone the team's way with just a couple points difference here and there.  As the Flames prepare for the opening round of the Big South Men's Tennis Championships, they hope to catch their stride and make a run.

Liberty was led in singles during the regular season by Giancarlo Lemmi and Siim Tuus, who each posted double-digit win totals.  Lemmi has notched 12 singles victories, with 10 of those coming in the No. 4 position.  The junior's performance in singles this season has allowed him to become Liberty's all-time wins leader with 55 victories, passing Chad Simpson.  Meanwhile, sophomore Tuus built upon his strong freshman campaign, notching 11 victories in 2011.

Two doubles combinations produced 10-win seasons for the Flames.  Lemmi and freshman Shea Thomas teamed for a 10-5 mark in the No. 2 position, which also helped Lemmi climb Liberty's all-time doubles wins list.  He now ranks second in that category, posting 57 doubles wins in his career.  The junior-sophomore combination of Mandeep Yadev and Tristan Stayt held a 10-3 record this season, with all matches coming at the No. 3 spot.  In Big South matches, the combination went 3-3.

First Round – Thursday – 1 p.m. vs. Coastal Carolina
Liberty's men will need no extra motivation in preparing for their opening round match, Thursday, against Coastal Carolina.  In the regular-season match, Coastal Carolina came away from Liberty Mountain having spoiled the Flames' senior day with a 4-3 win.  The match began with the Chanticleers stealing the doubles point.  After the No. 1 and 2 doubles matches were split, Coastal Carolina's pair of Danny Heidecker and Yusuke Kusuda edged out Yadev and Stayt, 9-8.  In singles play, each team picked up a straight-set win, making the score 2-1 in favor of the visitors.  The final four matches then went into a deciding third set.  Once again, the contests were split to result in the final score of 4-3.

The Flames are 0-1 against the Chanticleers in the Big South Championships, with Coastal Carolina taking a 4-0 win in 2008.

The Chanticleers finished the regular season with an 11-7 record, while going 4-2 in Big South matches to earn the No. 3 seed in this year's tournament.  The squad's two conference losses came to Radford and Winthrop, both by scores of 5-2.

Kusuda led Coastal Carolina in the regular season, producing 14 singles wins.  Ten of those came at the No. 3 position.  Matt Gordon and Heidecker closely followed, scoring 11 and 10 wins in singles play, respectively.  Gordon scored nine of his wins in the No. 2 slot, while Heidecker had six wins come in the lead singles match.

Gordon and Peter Billingham provided the most wins in doubles play, as they posted a 13-5 mark during the regular season, mainly playing the No. 1 contest.  Heidecker and Alex Funkhouser also notched double-digit wins, going 10-5.

Semifinals – Friday – 1 p.m. vs. No. 2 Radford or No. 7 Presbyterian College
If the Flames can avenge the regular-season loss to Coastal Carolina, either No. 2 seed/No. 64 ranked Radford or No. 7 seed Presbyterian College would be next up for the Flames in the semifinal round on Friday.  The opening round match between the No. 2 and 7 seeds takes place Thursday at 4 p.m.

In Big South Championship history, the Flames are 0-5 against Radford, and have not met Presbyterian College.

While the Flames were swept by Radford, Liberty provided its own 7-0 sweep in their regular-season win over Presbyterian College. 

The Highlanders wrapped up the regular season having won their last 15 matches to compile a 19-3 overall record and a 6-1 mark in the Big South.  Their last loss was their lone conference defeat, when they fell to Winthrop, 4-3, on March 4.

Five of Radford's men finished the regular season with 15 or more victories.  Ivan Salec notched the most, going 19-1 in his No. 1 singles matches.  Thomas Dehaen and Stijn Meulemans each posted 18 wins during the regular season and have current win streaks of 15 and 17 matches, respectively.  Dehaen has won eight matches at both No. 5 and 6, while Meulemans posted nine victories at No. 5 himself.  Nicholas Sayer and Igor Ogrizek round out the Highlanders' leading winners, with 17 and 15 wins, respectively.

Meanwhile, Salec and Dehaen have led Radford's doubles charge, holding a 16-5 record at No. 1 doubles.  This includes a 6-0 mark in Big South contests.  The No. 2 pairing of Ogrizek and Meulemans recorded 13 wins to just four losses during the regular season.

Presbyterian College finished the regular season with an 11-13 overall record.  The Blue Hose went 0-6 in Big South contests, including falling 7-0 to Radford in the regular season.  This season, they are making their second appearance in the Big South tournament.

Rafael Berghaus and Zachary Sprouse provided the most singles wins for Presbyterian College, scoring 13 and 12 wins, respectively.  Berghaus scored nine wins at No. 3 in the lineup, while Sprouse claimed 11 victories in the No. 6 slot.

The Blue Hose tried a large variety of doubles combinations.  While two pairs posted seven victories, only the combination of Gonzalo Asis and Nathan Crocker held a winning record.  The duo went 6-5 overall and posted a 2-0 mark in Big South contests.

Finals – Saturday – 1 p.m. vs. No. 1 Winthrop, No. 4 Gardner-Webb or No. 5 UNC Asheville
If the Flames are able to pick up a couple of upset victories, the winner of No. 1 seed Winthrop vs. either No. 4 seed Gardner-Webb or No. 5 seed UNC Asheville will await in the championship match.  Gardner-Webb and UNC Asheville face off Thursday, as the winner will take on top-seeded tournament host Winthrop, Friday.

Winthrop took down UNC Asheville, 6-1, and defeated Gardner-Webb, 7-0, during the regular season on its way to a perfect 6-0 conference record.

A championship preview will be provided Friday evening if the Flames are able to make a run through the first two rounds of the 2011 Big South Men's Tennis Championships.

The Flames' best showing at the Big South Conference tournament came in 2009, as the team advanced to the semifinal round.