With nationally ranked Gert Vilms and Carlos Lozano returning in 2001 for their junior and sophomore years, BYU looks to improve on a successful campaign from a year ago. The Cougars went 12-10 in 2000 and finished third in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
Besides Vilms and Lozano, the Cougars also return Anton Rudjuk, Jeff Olsen and Jeff Harbach. In addition, transfer Michael Gysens, returned missionary Matt Stohl and freshman Mitch Easton will all be key ingredients to a successful 2001 campaign.
"Last year we lost a couple of players mid-season and did not have the depth," said Coach Jim Osborne. "This year, I think we have a young, but deeper team than last year. We have no seniors, but if we stay healthy, we'll be stronger depth-wise than we have been in a long time."
In 2001, BYU will team two of the top doubles players from a year ago. Vilms teamed with Damien Ward to finish the regular season ranked at No. 15 in the nation and Lozano teamed up with Nic Losee a year ago, compiling an 18-10 record. Vilms and Lozano are ranked No. ??? going into the winter 2001 season.
"Gert and Panda have proved this fall to be one of the top doubles teams in the country," said Osborne. "They're only loss was to the No. 7 team in the nation. I think they are a potential All-American team. They can compete with anyone in the country at the first and second spots in singles. I'll probably alternate Gert and Carlos at one and two spots. Gert was ranked No. 66 nationally in singles this fall while Carlos is ranked ahead of Gert in our region. The rest of the line-up is up for grabs."
Olsen and Rudjuk both had solid seasons in 2000. Rudjuk finished the year with a 13-13 record and Olsen finished at 3-3. Rudjuk teamed with several players to go 7-7 in doubles while Olsen finished at 8-10. Harbach, a junior, sat out last season with a shoulder injury but is probable for the winter season after sitting out in the fall to rehabilitate.
"We're lucky to have Jeff (Harbach)," Osborne said. "He underwent major shoulder surgery last Christmas. He's our team captain and a natural leader. He has motivated the team to work harder off the court than any team I've coached since I've been here. Hopefully it will pay off in the end."
Gysens will add experience, coming in as a junior. He is from Belgium, but played in his home country before coming to BYU.
"Michael will only get 2 years of eligibility after going to school in Belgium," Osborne said. "He was 6-3 in the fall season. He did the best in the fall next to Gert and Panda. Gert and Panda were both 7-3 in the fall season."
Stohl returns to BYU after serving a mission to the Germany Hamburg Mission, and Easton is a product just out of Brighton High School in Sandy.
A big factor on the success of the team will be their ability to stay healthy. Three of the players on this year's team are returning from surgery. Besides the shoulder surgery of Harbach, Gysens had wrist surgery and Olsen had foot surgery.
"Potentially, if we stay healthy, I think we have the strongest, deepest team we've had in years," Osborne said. "Last year, we were in the top 30 until injuries and some other things at the end of the year put us in the 60's. This year I think we should get back on track. If so, we can have one of the best years ever. The big question is if we can stay healthy."
"I feel if we stay healthy, we have a very good potential of making our goal of an MWC championship and winning season."
"Gert started the year ranked No. 66 in singles and Panda (Carlos Lozano) beat UCLA's top recruit at the All-American Tournament this fall."
"If they had the choice, they'd rather be playing a mini-tournament in practice because they love competing against each other. They get along well and that will make the difference at the end of the season."
"After fall results, SDSU will probably be the No. 1 pick in the conference with UNLV and BYU next."
"We always play a very, very tough schedule. We have a brutal road trip in January -3 top 20 teams. Our goal is to sneak a win out of one of those teams early in the year."