After surprising its Mountain West opponents by taking the MWC tournament championship in 2001, the BYU men's tennis team advanced to the NCAA tournament and came close to upsetting No. 14 Cal-Berkeley. The Cougars pressed the Golden Bears all the way to the finish before losing a few tough three-set matches.
But the lessons learned in that tight match and from the Cougars' strong finish should provide a solid foundation on for this season's drive for success.
The Cougars are led by the doubles tandem of Gert Vilms and Carlos Lozano. Vilms and Lozano raised eyebrows last year with their impressive singles and doubles play. But this year, the two players have an extra year of experience and garnered a preseason No. 4 ranking in the country, so they won't sneak up on anyone.
"We know that Gert and Panda (Lozano) are a proven team," Osborne said.
Vilms, a senior who played in the Davis Cup for his native Estonia, won the BYU Invitational in the preseason for the second straight season. He teamed with Lozano to win the BYU Invitational and advance to the finals at the regional preseason tournament. Vilms has a powerful game with no real weaknesses and continues to improve each season.
Lozano, a junior who played in the World University Games, for Mexico, has an enormous amount of talent. His serve and volley game is perfect for doubles and in singles he has a chance against any player he's matched up with. But while Vilms and Lozano headline the Cougars' team, BYU has plenty of talent.
Nicolas Losee will return this year after missing last season. Losee excelled at Timpview High School and in his previous time at BYU. Losee played with Lozano in the past and is a powerful singles player.
"The addition of Nic, who is a proven player, will help the team out immensely," Osborne said.
Anton Rudjuk's singles game has also improved and he will share important singles duty with Losee. Sophomore Erik Nyman took home the 2001 MWC Newcomer of the Year after an impressive first season which saw him contribute immediately after arriving from his native Sweden. Nyman sat out this preseason, but should be a major factor throughout the regular season and tournament play.
Senior Jeff Harbach and junior Jeff Olsen will provide added leadership and consistant play for the Cougars. Harbach has had surgery on his shoulder, but the shoulder has healed and he is ready to play. Harbach and Olsen play doubles together and have become one of the most formidable teams in the region.
With all the talent on the team and the strong finish from last season come high expectations for this year's Cougars. But BYU is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to build on last season's success.
"Potentially, this is the best team I've ever had here," Osborne said. "The guys believe they can do it now."
Jeremy Price, Paul Heapy, Jose Luis Lechuga and Brad Herbert are this year's newcomers and should provide depth. Price and Rudjuk played doubles together in the fall and performed well. Lechuga just joined the team from Mexico and Herbert might redshirt.
Osborne said the Cougars are happy with how the team finished last season, but the Cougars are not satisfied thinking of past success.
"We are at that level, now we have to show it throughout the year," Osborne said. "There's no reason why we can't win conference again this year and we want to make it to the final 16 at NCAAs."