(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
The 2006-07 season was one that built character for the No. 64 BYU men's tennis team. The men played a difficult and competitive schedule with the intent to build and strengthen a successful men's tennis program, and that they did.
"Our bar is set high every year," BYU head coach Brad Pearce said. "We'll have to have an unbelievable season to reach the 14 goals that we set for ourselves every year, but we have not backed down nor will we ever back down from the standard we set for ourselves."
Highlights from the season include a second place finish at the Wilson/ITA Regional Tournament and a similar finish in the Mountain West Conference Tournament. The Cougars began the spring season with a No. 73 national ranking moving up as high as No. 57 in the nation, marking its highest ranking in a number of years.
A final record of 13-14 is not the most impressive to a casual observer, but for the 2006-07 Cougars it is somewhat deceiving. Fifteen of the 28 matches BYU faced during the season were nationally ranked and most of those matches were on the road.
Some of the toughest teams the Cougars faced included a match against UCLA in Los Angeles, the No. 4 team in the nation, and No. 17 Washington on the Huskies home courts. BYU almost knocked off No. 13 Texas in Provo and No. 19 Boise State in Idaho before beating the 17-time NCAA Champion Stanford Cardinal, 5-2, on The Farm.
"We purposely create a very tough schedule every year," Pearce said. "If our record was most important to us our schedule wouldn't be what it is every year. We want to keep playing the best tennis programs year in and year out because that is how we recruit the best players and keep improving; not only individually, but as a team."
Pearce's assistant coach Dan Battistone said that philosophy is the only way to constantly improve.
"Our record isn't always the best, but we keep getting better," he said. "The name of the game is improvement, win or lose. If you keep improving then good things will happen."
And happen they did. BYU entered the MWC Tournament as the five seed with a 2-4-conference record. Three of the conference losses were by only one point and the Cougars were confident that they could compete in the tournament. They went on to upset No. 55 New Mexico and No. 47 San Diego State, the regular season champion, and lost to UNLV in the championship match to secure second place in the MWC Championships.
Individually, Pearce honored senior James Ludlow with the Player of the Year award for all of Ludlow's outstanding accomplishments during the year. One defining moment featured Ludlow at no. 1 singles against No. 19 Adam Holmstrom from the No. 60 team from the University of Denver. Ludlow was down 5-2 in the third set when he rallied to win the next five games and take the match and earn MWC Player of the Week honors for his efforts.
Ludlow also stepped up during the conference tournament to beat Max Jones and the MWC Player of the Year, Markus Dickhardt, to secure team wins over New Mexico and SDSU, respectively. Ludlow also beat Utah's Zach Ganger, No. 57, during conference play to help secure for himself an individual ranking of No. 77 at year's end. As icing on the already rich cake, Ludlow was named the ITA Mountain Region Senior Player of the Year.
Other standout individual performances came from senior Chip Hand with a ten-match win streak and 11 wins in 12 matches over more than one month's time. Senior Dominik Kaufhold also competed as team captain at the top of the lineup despite a heel injury incurred during the spring of 2006.
The seniors weren't the only players to contribute to the success of the team. Freshman Cassidy Mears played as high as number three in the lineup and tallied a remarkable 14-9 doubles record with sophomore Cale Planck, a fellow newcomer to the Cougar squad. Junior Jonathan Sanchez earned MWC Player of the Week for a 5-1 record in over two days on the road in combined singles and doubles action.
All-MWC honorees from BYU featured Ludlow in both singles and doubles along with Hand in singles and Kaufhold in doubles.
In the Mountain Region the Cougar men finished the season as the No. 3 ranked program in the region. Four players were ranked in the top 30 in singles led by senior James Ludlow placing sixth. He was followed by Chip Hand as the No. 10 ranked player with Dominik Kaufhold in 15th place. Jonathan Sanchez placed No. 21. All three of the doubles duos finished in the to 16 in the region. Kaufhold and Ludlow ranked third overall, with Hand and Sanchez tied at 11th place and Mears and Cale Plank finishing in 14th place.
With the bar already raised, an impressive performance in the MWC Tournament coupled with strong victories over Stanford and other top-tier teams will provide a strong platform from which the 2007-08 BYU men's tennis team can continue to succeed.