Senior Jose Lechuga returns for his final year in teh blue and white. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
The 2004-05 season was one of the best years in BYU men's tennis history, as the Cougars finished second in both region play and the Mountain West Conference to go along with an undefeated record at home and a No. 61 national ranking. The great success the Cougars achieved last year has Coach Brad Pearce excited about the 2005-06 campaign.
"We have a solid, mature and seasoned team with wonderful senior leadership," Pearce said. "Those things should help us this season as we have great talent, energy and experience."
The team will especially rely on experience early on this season, as they start with matches against four national powerhouses from California. The Cougars will face No. 1 UCLA, No. 8 Pepperdine, perennial power Stanford, who has more NCAA championships than any other school, and the University of California in the first month of the season. But those four matches only mark the beginning of a very tough schedule for BYU, as the Mountain West Conference has turned into a tough conference to compete in. Every team in the MWC finished last season nationally ranked, and with the addition of powerful conference newcomer TCU, the conference looks as tough as ever.
The team feels confident in its ability to compete for the conference championship and earn an NCAA berth, but faces an obstacle it did not have to hurdle last year -- the loss of home-court advantage. The Cougars went a perfect 9-0 at home in 2005 and were able to pull off close wins at important times because of the energy they took from the home crowds. This year, BYU will not play one conference match at home. Pearce said this will make conference play even tougher, but his team will simply have to become road warriors, generate their own energy, and still get the important conference wins.
Pearce will also have to fill two positions vacated by Jeff Das and Shane LaPorte, who turned pro over the summer. Although the two of them will be missed, Pearce said strong preseason play from everyone on the team has him excited to see what his team will accomplish this year.
"Our guys had great fall seasons and are ready for the upcoming season," Pearce said. "All of our players have stepped up, and I'm pleased and fortunate to have the talent on this team to fill key positions."
Pearce's confidence in his players stems from their improvement in the offseason, which led Pearce to take a new approach to this season. Instead of focusing solely on the goals the team set, the Cougars are emphasizing continuous individual improvement, believing it will bring overall team success. While the team strives to achieve its goals as a way to measure their season's success, they believe focusing on getting better every day and with every match will help lead them to the conference championship and an NCAA berth they were so close to last year.
"Tennis relies on a team score, but it's still an individual sport," Pearce said. "I want our guys to focus on getting better and improving their capabilities so we are better prepared to win the big matches. Winning is paramount, but I believe if we focus more on improvement, the winning aspect will take care of itself.
The Cougars look forward to another exciting year of BYU tennis.