Jose Lechuga was both a leader on and off the court for the 05-06 Cougars. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
The 2005-06 BYU men's tennis team proved it is not how a team starts, but how it finishes that matters. With two long road trips and matches against top-ten teams the Cougars got off to a rocky start. However, by focusing on constant improvement throughout the season, they worked their way to a 12-17 record, a No. 75 national finish, and a run at the conference championship where the team eventually finished No. 3.
Going into the season, coach Brad Pearce decided to place emphasis on more than just winning. Although he believed winning was paramount, he felt by teaching his team to focus and improve on their individual capabilities they would in turn become a better team all around. With that focus he believed the winning would take care of itself. This new approached led to a difficult first half of the season, but once the pieces fell into place the Cougars were able to make a strong run at the Mountain West Conference Championship.
In order to help his team improve on an individual basis, Pearce scheduled matches with some of the toughest competition in the country early in the season. The strong schedule matched BYU with three top-ten teams, including reigning national champion and No. 5 UCLA, No. 7 Stanford, and future national champion No. 9 Pepperdine. The Cougars then embarked on a road trip where they played 10 matches in 11 days, beginning on the California Coast before heading to Texas and ending in Colorado. Playing the best paid off for BYU as the Cougars were able to draw on their experience when it mattered most, playing beautifully in conference competition to earn the No. 3 seed in the MWC Tournament.
Amidst all the traveling, Provo and home court advantage proved to be a sanctuary for BYU during the season. Following the 2004-05 season when they were a perfect 9-0 at home, the Cougars only had six matches scheduled for home during the 2005-06 campaign. The small number of home matches made each one markedly more significant, especially since the Cougs did not play any conference matches in Provo. The team put its home court advantage to use early, winning its first three matches and increasing its home win streak to 12 matches. The streak ended with a tough loss to Boise State, but following a month on the road BYU used the familiar Cougar courts to get back on track. The team earned 6-1 and 7-0 victories over Montana State and Idaho State respectively in its final two home matches to finish with a 5-1 home record and momentum to carry into conference play.
The Cougars opened conference play in New Mexico with a convincing 5-2 win over the No. 74 ranked Lobos, followed by a 7-0 shutout of Air Force. Riding high on the two victories, the Cougars took on MWC newcomer and No. 29 TCU. The Horned Frogs proved their metal, beating BYU 6-1 to give the Cougars a 2-1 record through the first half of the conference season. Just as they had all year, the team shrugged off the loss and prepared for a match up with rival No. 56 Utah in Salt Lake City. Playing at Utah did not seem to faze BYU at all, and the team rolled to a convincing 5-2 victory. The Cougars split their last two conference matches, beating No. 58 UNLV 5-2, but barely falling 4-3 to San Diego State.
The Cougar 4-2 conference record earned them a No. 3 seed for the MWC Tournament and another shot at New Mexico. The match yielded the same results as the two teams' first meeting as the Cougars advanced to the semifinals with a 4-2 victory. Unfortunately for BYU, advancing to the semifinal meant taking on No. 1 seed TCU. Although they played well, the team couldn't out-do the top-seeded Horned Frogs and was ousted from the tournament with a 4-0 loss.
Throughout the course of the season the Cougars achieved their goal of improving individually in order to better the team, and as a result each athlete contributed to the success of the team. Senior Jose Lechuga played a significant leadership role for the Cougars throughout the season, guiding the team on and off the court. With a team-high 20 singles victories during the season, Lechuga played his best tennis when it mattered most, winning 11 of his last 12 matches and a 6-1 record in conference play and the MWC Tournament. He also took responsibilities at No. 1 doubles where he posted a 12-10 record with James Ludlow. Coach Pearce recognized Lechuga's contribution and honored him for his leadership off the court with the 2005 Coach's Award.
Alongside Lechuga, seniors Ivan Kokurin and Nima Roshan put their talents to use wherever the team needed them most. After sitting out most of the season with a shoulder injury, Roshan returned to action mid-way through conference play and made his presence felt. Making his debut against Utah, Roshan quickly nabbed victories on the singles and doubles courts to help the Cougars to a 3-1conference record. Following the Utah match, Roshan teamed with long-time doubles partner Jose Lechuga to go a perfect 4-0 and help put BYU into championship contention. Kokurin wouldn't go unnoticed either during conference play, netting three important singles victories for the Cougars, but was most dangerous during the season as a doubles player. Teaming with Dominik Kaufhold, Kokurin won 12 doubles matches, wins that proved key in many Cougar victories. On the season, Kokurin netted 13 doubles victories.
While the seniors lived up to their leadership responsibilities, the squad's juniors were the heart of the order for BYU. James Ludlow took the responsibility of No. 1 singles, winning his first four matches. Ludlow finished the season at 10-17 after facing five ranked players, including two ranked in the top 20. He pulled his weight in doubles as well, winning 12 doubles matches with Lechuga on court No. 1. For his efforts Ludlow earned MWC Player of the Week honors once and was named first team All-MWC in singles and doubles.
Another junior, Dominik Kaufhold, proved why he is such an integral part of the team by winning 14 matches for the Cougars. Kaufhold, MWC Player of the Week and All-MWC first team in singles and doubles, demonstrated his toughness late in the season during conference play. After coming back from an Achilles tendon injury sustained against Utah, Kaufhold played through the pain and served himself to a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Elliot Wronski of UNLV to clinch the match for BYU.
Christian Hand rounded out the junior trio for the Cougars, playing solid for the team all year long. Playing wherever needed (at least once in every position), Hand finished the season with the second highest win total on the team with 16 victories, including 10 in a row to finish the season. Hand played hard and quick all year long, using his strong serve to win 15 of his 16 matches in straight sets.
Giving hope to a bright BYU tennis future, three sophomores played their given roles throughout the entire season. The three were inserted into the lineup to fill holes left by injuries and strengthen the team at various times throughout the season. Jonathan Sanchez teamed with Hand to account for 8 doubles wins on the year while Zack Warren and Utah State transfer Henry Marsh contributed when called upon during their sophomore seasons. Both made their Cougar debut against Marquette and both earned their first wins for BYU against Idaho State.
With key contributors returning for the 2006-07 season, the Cougars look to continue their individual improvements to lead the team to a winning season and another run at the MWC Championship.