Racking up the victories

Men’s tennis has sights set high in 2015

In the Big South preseason poll, the head coaches of the conference predicted the Liberty Flames men’s tennis team to finish fifth in the pack. The team had the month of December off for the holidays to rest, but according to Head Coach Chris Johnson, the players came back in good shape, prepared to play hard this season.

Johnson trusts his team will deliver this season and will be ready to turn some heads in the conference.

“I’m looking to win a conference (title) this year,” Johnson said. “If we finish third (again), that will be a disappointment, (and we) surely don’t plan on finishing fifth. We’ll give it to God and ask him to keep us healthy and see what happens.”

Johnson is a Liberty alumnus and played for Liberty’s tennis program back around the time the members of his current tennis club were born. In those years, 1990-1994, Liberty’s tennis facility had four courts. Now, the university has constructed a 12-court outdoor facility and a five-court indoor facility at The Sports Racket on Davis Cup Road thanks to long-time donor Sherwin Cook and his family.

“We’re really proud of the fact that when we go out recruiting, we don’t have to beg, borrow and steal,” Johnson said. “We can show recruits that we’ve got a great facility with locker rooms. What a blessing that God’s given us the resources, and put it in people’s hearts to donate the money to help us with that.”

Seniors Dillon Segur and Jorge Azuero, who know all about Johnson and Assistant Coach Rich Benson’s priorities, lead this roster.

The staff recognizes that the body can clock out mentally if it is not strong physically. The team is more confident when they are strong mentally, leading to the coaches’ emphasis on displaying good character.

This spring season, the men’s tennis team will have matches in states all over the country. They will be traveling to Texas, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Throughout the season, the team will focus on watching film to help improve, along with on-court practice. A lot of what sets a player apart, especially in a conference where many players are close to the same level, is how he plays the big points situations. Coaches believe studying video will help players improve in those clutch situations.

Last April, Coastal Carolina defeated the Flames in the Big South Tournament’s quarterfinals and was picked to finish first by coaches in the Big South preseason rankings this year. With a 5-3 Big South record last year, finishing third, the Flames garnered one first-place preseason poll vote.

In order to stay sharp over winter break, several Liberty players played in some independent tournaments during late December and early January.

Competing as a team for the first time since Nov. 2, the Flames won their first two matches of the year, playing in the friendly confines of Lynchburg’s Sports Racket Jan. 24, defeating James Madison 7-0 and Morehead State 5-2. No. 3 Virginia humbled the Flames in their Jan. 25 match, winning 7-0, but the Flames still began their season the way they wanted.

Further in the season, the Flames will also face off against three different Florida colleges, including the University of Miami Hurricanes, before conference play.

The Flames will open up conference play March 21 as they face Coastal Carolina in Lynchburg.

CASTEL is a sports reporter.

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