(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
This season was arguably one of the better years in BYU men???s tennis history and certainly of the past decade. The 2004-2005 squad posted a second place finish in the Mountain West Conference regular season, a top 50 national ranking and a second place finish in the MWC tournament in San Diego while just missing out on a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
The ???Young Guns??? as they were called came out firing from both barrels in ???05. Led by lone juniors Jose Lechuga and fiery competitor Nima Roshan, the team easily made the incredible transition from one of the worst seasons two years ago to one of the best. The 180-degree flip can be attributed to stellar recruiting by Head Coach Brad Pearce. He infused the team with young and exciting talent and mixed it with the battle- tested veterans.
After snagging Chip Hand out of the fertile Southern California recruiting grounds a year earlier, Coach Brad Pearce returned last year and walked away with what some colleagues claimed was the best young class in that area. Signers included Jeff Das, Shane LaPorte and Jonathan Sanchez plus a commitment from transfer James Ludlow bolstered the depth and added dangerous arrows to an already tough quiver.
With so much young talent on the squad it???s remarkable such a great season could come from a team dominated by underclassmen. Not a single senior dotted the Cougar roster. After redshirting the 2004 season due to injury, Jose Lechuga took matters into his own hands. Determined to contribute to the team, Lechuga teamed with long time doubles partner Nima Roshan to play number one doubles. The duo recorded a 12-10 record including a win over a top ranked team and a slot on the All-MWC doubles team.
Nima Roshan acceptedthe responsibility of carrying the weight of last year???s squad on his shoulders. The big serving Aussie played No. 1 singles the majority of the year. He posted a tough 9-12 singles record and was named to the All-MWC Team. He also earned a spot on the All-MWC doubles team with teammate Jose Lechuga.
After a one year stint at the University of San Diego, Jeff Das arrived in Provo and the team immediately felt his impact. Because of his versatility and his ???grinding from the baseline??? style of play, he was moved anywhere from No. 2 singles to 4 singles depending on where the team needed him. He posted an 11-8 singles record for the season.
Another big time player, James Ludlow, came by way of transfer as well. After playing his first year at Boise State, the Utah native decided to head south. He donned the blue and white and immediately contributed to the team???s success. Possibly the most consistent and poised of the squad???s players, Ludlow routinely chipped in solid wins. At one point in the season he had a six match win streak, the second longest on the team. Ludlow was named to the All-MWC doubles team with Dominik Kaufhold as a result of their 15-9 record. Ludlow also received the MWC Sportsmanship Award for his calm demeanor and service outside of tennis.
The Big German, Dominik Kauflhold, added much needed depth to the squad. Down the stretch Kaufhold was clutch. With the overall score tied at 3 all to the University of Denver and the team???s undefeated home streak hanging by a thread, the sophomore calmly served his way to a 7-6 win in the second set to claim the victory and preserve the Cougars??? perfect home record. Overall Kaufhold notched an impressive 11-4 singles record while teaming with James Ludlow to go 15-9 in doubles.
Another key factor to BYU???s success was the play of Chip Hand. He was simply on fire all year long. Playing the majority of the season at No. 5 singles the California kid posted an impressive 19 singles wins, top for the squad, while only losing four times all year. Normally one of the first guys off the court, Hand???s big win in the Conference Championship gave the Cougars a fighting chance as they nearly pulled off the upset over home-court favorite San Diego State. Hand also teamed with Shane LaPorte to go 8-3 on the season and 4-2 in the conference in doubles play.
It???s safe to say Fab Freshman Shane Laporte???s first season as a Cougar was a success. Like Das, his style of play afforded Coach Pearce the opportunity to place him where needed. LaPorte did most of his damage at No. 3 singles but saw time at both 4 and 5 singles. Arguably LaPorte???s biggest day came on the last day of the regular season at home against Air Force. With BYU one win away from having a perfect home record, the Cougars found themselves tied 3-3 in the final match. LaPorte dropped the first match 7-6, but battled back in the second to win by the same score 7-6. In the third, he found enough in him to blast his opponent 6-3 to win the match and the day. Overall the freshman recorded a 14-8 singles record while teaming with both Jonathan Sanchez and Chip Hand to go 15-8 in doubles on the season.
Splitting time with Dominik Kaufhold at No. 6 singles was tough for a competitor like freshman Jonathan Sanchez, but he bore it well. The freshman ripped off nine singles wins during the year while only posting three losses. Sanchez came up with a big win for BYU during the first round of the MWC playoffs beating Air Force???s Alexander 6-0, 6-3 and put the Cougars in the championship match against San Diego State. During the season Sanchez teamed with LaPorte in doubles to post a 7-5 overall record.
The Cougars opened 2005 strong, getting two victories at home over Weber State and Utah State before hitting the road to the California Coast. They split the road trip, losing to top ranked UCLA but rebounding with a win over UC Davis.
BYU returned home and beat a ranked Oregon team then headed for Texas. However, the Texan schools proved too tough for BYU as the Cougars lost to a good Rice team and soon-to-be Mountain West opponent TCU.
The Cougars ripped off six straight wins and seven of eight to end the regular season. The streak included wins over Denver, Colorado, Idaho State and Santa Fe.
The boys in blue and white nearly ran the table in Mountain West Conference action losing only to San Diego State in San Diego. As a result, the Cougars earned the second seed in the MWC Tournament and a first round bye. After grounding Air Force early BYU advanced to the championships against the Aztecs, who proved to be a thorn in BYU???s side.
After tying the overall score at two a piece courtesy of wins by Shane LaPorte and Chip Hand, BYU was on the brink of claiming the championship. But late in the matchJames Ludlow couldn???t hold on to his lead and eventually lost along with teammate Nima Roshan, giving SDSU the title.
With the 2006 season in view, the Cougars are anxious to snag trophy that eluded them last year. With all of the pieces to last year???s puzzle returning, plus a year of valuable experience under their belts they intend to go make another historic run in 2006.