Salas (left) and Gutierrez (right) lead the Big South with a 5-0 doubles record.
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The Flames men's tennis squad will play three matches in three days this weekend, starting with a road bout at UNCW on Friday afternoon.
Following Friday's 1 p.m. tilt at the Seahawks' UNCW Courts in Wilmington, N.C., Liberty will stay in Wilmington to battle USC Upstate on Saturday morning (10 a.m.). The Flames will then make the 330-mile trek north to Charlottesville, Va. to take on Virginia on Sunday at 5 p.m. at Boar's Head Sports Club.
"We are looking forward to this weekend. The guys seem to be getting physically stronger, and everybody is healthy," stated Flames assistant coach Beck Pennington. "They are ready to battle for the three matches coming up this weekend."
The Flames are 2-3 on the young season. UNCW is off to a 2-1 start to its 2018 campaign, while future Big South member USC Upstate is 1-2 in the early going. Meanwhile, three-time defending NCAA champion Virginia currently stands at .500 (3-3) through six matches.
Series History The Flames are 0-6 in the all-time series against the UNCW Seahawks. The two squads last met nearly seven years ago (Feb. 13, 2011), a battle won by the Seahawks.
Liberty and USC Upstate have never met in men's tennis.
Liberty is 0-7 all-time against the Virginia Cavaliers. The two teams last met in 2015, a match won, 7-0, by the No. 3 Cavaliers.
How to Follow the Flames Friday's Liberty-UNCW bout will feature live scoring, courtesy of UNCW Athletic Communications. There will be no live results for Saturday's match between the Flames and USC Upstate Spartans.
Sunday's Liberty-Virginia match will feature both live video streaming and scoring.
Find links for this weekend's matches on the Liberty men's tennis schedule page on LibertyFlames.com.
Early Season Update The Flames split a pair of matches, last weekend at Auburn (4-1 loss) and Kennesaw State (4-3 win). Liberty won the doubles point from the Auburn Tigers but did not secure any of the four finished singles bouts.
Last Sunday at Kennesaw State, it came down to the No. 6 singles match between Liberty senior Diego Castano and the Owls' Harrison Wood. Castano delivered a clutch three-set victory, giving the Flames their first road victory of 2018.
Liberty's other victory came in a neutral-site match against North Carolina A&T (6-1 win on Jan. 19) while its other two losses came to Virginia Tech (Jan. 19) and Richmond (Jan. 26).
Four Flames have two singles wins apiece (Chase Burton, Diego Castano, Eddie Gutierrez and Sam Matheson), this spring.
Doubles Dominance While Liberty has struggled a bit to find rhythm in singles, the opposite has been true of its doubles play. The Flames' doubles units are 11-2 combined in five matches, winning the doubles point in every spring match to date. The pairing of Gutierrez and Salas is a perfect 5-0 in the No. 2 slot, ranking as the top doubles squad by record in the Big South. Castano and junior Alex Poynter own a 4-1 mark at No. 1.
Burton is a combined 2-1 in doubles with two different partners (Sam Matheson and Samuel Brown).
Road Tested Liberty is in the midst of a stretch of nine matches away from Lynchburg. Following this weekend's three road/neutral site tilts, the Flames will play four more times away from home:
New Orleans (Feb. 23, neutral site), at Florida A&M (Feb. 24), at Florida State (Feb. 24) and at Longwood (Feb. 28). Liberty's next home match will not be until March 2 against the George Mason Patriots.
Scouting UNCW The Seahawks own victories over FGCU and Appalachian State. Their lone win came in the season opener down in Orlando, Fla. against BYU. In 2017, UNCW posted a 14-9 overall mark and won the CAA title, advancing to the NCAA Championships.
UNCW's current nine-man roster, which is coached by Mait DuBois, includes six sophomores, two juniors and a senior. Sophomore Ignasi de Rueda leads the charge in singles so far at 3-0 in the No. 2 (2-0) and No. 3 (1-0) spots in the lineup. Fellow sophomore Michael Copeland holds a 3-0 singles mark in the No. 4 (2-0) and No. 5 positions (1-0). The Seahawks have struggled as a group in doubles, going 2-6 through three matches.
Scouting USC Upstate USC Upstate, who will join the Big South as a full member for the 2018-19 academic year, will battle Liberty on Saturday for the first and only time as a non-conference foe. The Spartans' one victory on the year came versus Eastern Washington (4-3, Jan. 26). In addition to a loss to Applachian State, USC Upstate suffered narrow 4-3 losses to defending Big South champion Presbyterian and Gardner-Webb.
Eighth-year head coach Oliver Trittenwein's squad is composed of four freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and a senior. Sophomores Francisco Neto (3-1) and Fernando Bernandes (2-0) have been the team's most reliable singles players so far. The Spartans have posted a solid 7-4 mark in doubles, led by the No. 3 tandem of Luka Eble and Felix Ewers (3-0 record).
Scouting Virginia After going 34-1 in 2017 on the way to winning the NCAA title, the Cavaliers have dropped three matches in the early part of 2018. They own victories over Richmond, Temple and Eastern Kentucky, with setbacks coming to Texas Tech, Ole Miss and Kentucky.
First-year head coach Andres Pedroso took over as Director of Tennis in May 2017. Pedroso's 2017-18 roster is comprised of eight freshmen, one sophomore, one junior and one senior. Junior Aswin Lizen, who won the singles main draw at the ITA Atlantic Regional in October, hosted by Liberty, is 17-1 in singles and 5-0 in the spring. Freshman Gianni Ross is 4-1 in singles, including a 4-0 mark the No. 2 slot. Virginia is a combined 17-15 (.531) in singles and 6-9 (.400) in doubles during the spring.