After a successful 2001-2002 season that saw the Cougars finish with a 14-9 record, a trip to the MWC finals and a No. 69 final ranking, the BYU men's tennis team is looking to continue that success this year.
But both the team and head coach Jim Osborne know that to be successful this year, they will need someone to step up and fill the big holes that have been left by the departing seniors.
"We have lost three of our top six players from last year," Osborne said. " The loss of Gert Vilms at No. 1, Nic Lossee at No. 3 and Jeff Harbach at No. 6 is pretty significant. But we have a good, solid team with some great experience."
Osborne, who is entering his fifteenth year at BYU, accredits last year's success partly to the strength of the doubles teams. Of the three doubles teams from last season, each one had one of the seniors that are now gone.
"This year we need to rebuild some doubles teams," Osborne said. "We need some guys to step up and fill the positions in both doubles and singles."
Osborne will be looking to senior Carlos Lozano to take the lead at the No. 1 position this season. Lozano finished last season with an 11-9 record in singles, playing primarily at the No. 1 and 2 spots and was named to the All-MWC and All-American Teams.
"Carlos Lozano has been an All-American and I think he is ready to play at the No. 1 spot," Osborne said. "We need him to step up and fill that position for us this year."
Junior Erik Nyman will also fill an important role on the team in singles and will be paired with Lozano as the No. 1 doubles team. He and Lozano start the season ranked No. 13 in the nation.
"Erik has a great game," Osborne said. "He had wins over top-100 players last year. He and Lozano will be at the top of our lineup."
"After the top two positions, it is pretty much wide open," Osborne said. "It is going to come down to who wants it the most and who is ready to play hard."
The other seniors on the team, Jeff Olsen and Anton Rudjuk, will be pushing each other for the No. 3 and No. 4 singles spots. They both bring with them great leadership and lots of experience.
Olsen , who finished the year with a 5-9 record in singles, has played a lot in the off season and has really improved his game.
"Jeff Olsen seems to have a lot more maturity in his game this season," Osborne said. "He could play high up in the lineup for us. I think he is going to have a great year."
Anton Rudjuk started off last season on a 5-2 tear in the fall. But once the real season started in January, Rudjuk went 5-6 in singles play.
"Anton has always been one of our best players in the fall," Osborne said. "We need to get him playing his best tennis at the end of the year. I think he could play high up in the lineup if we can get him to peak at the right time."
Of the remaining letterwinners returning to the team, coach Osborne hopes to get significant play from Paul Heapy, Jose Luis Lechuga and Jeremy Price.
The Cougars also welcome two newcomers -- Freshman Rob Sperry and junior college transfer Alonso Medina.
"We don't know where the newcomers will fit into the lineup, but they may push those guys at the top position," Osborne said.
Coach Osborne said he feels last year's success will help this year's team.
"Hopefully, the guys will come back ready to play and we won't have to start at square one," he said. "We want to build on last year and get things going quickly."
As for this season's schedule, Osborne said it will be a good one filled with matches that will challenge the team.
"Early on this season, we play last year's national champions, USC, on a road trip," Osborne said. "That will give us a good feel for how our team is. We have a strong schedule this year."
Coach Osborne is especially looking forward to conference play.
"Our conference battles are always tough," he said. "It is going to be a tough conference. We lost the conference finals last year to San Diego State, so we'd like to be there again this year and win."
"Our goal ultimately is to have a top-20 team," Osborne said. "I thought we were real close last year, we just ran into some bad luck. We got off to a slow start last year, so hopefully we can do better this year."