COLLEGE STATION -- The Texas A&M men’s tennis team will jump start its 2008 campaign with back-to-back home dual matches against two of the nation’s top 30 programs. A&M will get its first test of the season in No. 30 Clemson on Friday, Jan. 25 at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center. First serve between the Aggies (0-0) and Tigers (2-0) is set for 5 p.m.
With high expectations leading into the upcoming season, there are signs of good things to come as A&M debuted at No. 25 in the nation in the first edition of the preseason ITA/FILA Collegiate Tennis Rankings released on Jan. 8.
The Aggies are headlined by two-time All-American Jerry Makowski (Bradenton, Fla.) and No. 23-ranked and All-Big 12 Conference standout Conor Pollock (San Antonio, Texas). A&M also welcomes two of the nation’s most-heralded recruits to the lineup in freshmen Austin Krajicek (Brandon, Fla.) and Wil Spencer (Ponce de Leon, Fla.) as well as sophomore transfer Chris Chirico (Philadelphia, Pa.) who is currently ranked No. 89 nationally in singles. Spencer was the second-highest rated player in the Class of 2008 by the Tennis Recruiting Network, while Krajicek was rated the seventh-best prospect nationally.
“Our team goals for the season include winning the Big 12 and being able to play our best tennis come NCAA Tournament time,” said second-year head coach and former U.S. Open doubles champion Steve Denton. “I think this team is very capable of making a run there.”
In order to fulfill those lofty goals, A&M returns a deep roster of talent which includes senior Matt Bain (Georgetown, Texas), senior Mike Beatty (Cincinnati, Ohio), sophomore Stephen Shields (Austin, Texas) and freshman Kayvon Karimi (Dallas, Texas). Last season, the Aggies made their 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and closed out the year with a 15-12 mark.
“As a coaching staff, we will see if we can do a good enough job of getting them all ready to be playing on all cylinders when we get to May,” Denton said. “That’s kind of a tricky situation, because you have guys peaking at different times. But, you’re hoping to get enough of them to peak at the same time, so that you’re playing well at the end of the year.”
In fact, Denton and assistant coach Bob McKinley have loaded up this year’s schedule with nationally-ranked competition in each match of the season coupled with the always tough Big 12 Conference home-and-road slate to get the players amply prepared for the postseason.
Clemson is 2-0 on the season with a 6-1 victory over the Citadel on Jan. 21 and a 7-0 shutout of UNC Greensboro on Jan. 20. A&M will be the first of four opponents in the Lone Star State for the Tigers as they will take on No. 45-ranked Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Friday at 10 a.m. at the Mitchell Center. Former Texas A&M assistant coach Steve Moore is currently the head coach at TAMUCC, a fledging program that Denton previously led to a program-best No. 26 national ranking in 2004-05.
Clemson’s top player Rok Bizjak is ranked No. 61 nationally. They are led by Chuck Kriese, the Bobby Knight of college tennis in longevity, who will retire at the end of the season after 33 years at the ACC school and has compiled 618 career victories to date.
Perhaps the toughest test of the early portion of A&M’s schedule will be a quick turnaround matchup against No. 22 Boise State (4-0) on Sunday, Jan. 27 at 1 p.m. The Broncos recently picked up victories over regional rivals in Montana State, Utah State, UNLV and New Mexico. They boast the one-two punch of brothers Clancy and Luke Shields who are ranked No. 19 and No. 47 respectively in singles. Last year, Luke earned All-America honors and led BSU to the NCAA Second Round where they lost 4-2 to Texas. Three other Boise State players join the Shields brothers on the national scene including No. 69-ranked Brent Werbeck and the No. 41-ranked doubles team of Eric Roberson and Paul Koenke.
“We are very excited to kickoff the season against two quality nationally-ranked opponents,” Denton said. “Both Clemson and Boise State are rich in tennis tradition and we will have our hands full as both teams are coached by two of the best coaches in all of college tennis, Chuck Kriese and Greg Patton.”
A&M has never competed against Clemson in program history, but holds a 2-1 advantage in the all-time series with Boise State. The Aggies last faced the Broncos in 2002 (W, 5-1), 2005 (W, 4-0) and 2006 (L, 3-4). The 2005 meeting with BSU was a postseason second-round victory which catapulted the Aggies into the NCAA Sweet 16.