(Photo by Kenny Crookston)
As the Cougars’ storybook season unfolded, they broke records and tallied “firsts” all along the way. The team was a perfect 6-0 against conference opponents, earning BYU’s first regular season title since the inception of the MWC in 1999. The hard work did not go unnoticed as the conference recognized BYU athletes nine times in 16 weeks. The nine Player of the Week citations are the most in a single season by any MWC school.
On April 17, the Cougars defeated No. 58 UNLV to earn their 20th win of the year. This marked the first time the squad recorded 20 wins since the 1988 season. BYU went on to secure a 21st win against Utah for a 21-7 overall season record and the conference regular season title.
Among the many accomplishment of the team were stellar individual performances across the board. Cassidy Mears once again led the Cougars on and off the court. The lone senior defeated Nebraska’s Francois Van Impe on March 13 to become BYU’s third winningest player in men’s tennis history.
He was the only Cougar to go undefeated against conference opponents and was named MWC Men’s Tennis Player of the Week four times and named to the Academic All-MWC team. Mears is only the fourth player in MWC history to receive the award four times in a singles season. He also recorded key wins for BYU throughout the season including three-set, come-from-behind victories to clinch the match against both Denver and San Diego State. The win over the Aztecs secured the regular season title for the Cougars.
Joining Mears in the record books was sophomore Georgy Batrakov. The Russia native earned enough wins to lock in a spot among the 10 BYU players with the most singles wins in a season. Batrakov spent the season at the Nos. 3 and 4 positions and earned player of the week recognition for his 4-0 record versus Denver and Drake. Batrakov partnered with Daniel Hwang to capture a place among the top 10 pairs for season doubles wins.
Thomas Shubert had a promising start to the season with an impressive run in the fall. The junior went 12-0 to begin fall play, winning the singles title at both the Boise State Fall Classic and the Utah Invitational. Shubert carried that momentum into the spring, earning six consecutive wins and upsetting No. 42 George Coupland. He was also honored by the conference with a selection to the All-MWC singles team and the doubles team with Mears in addition to a player of the week award during the season.
Fellow junior Evan Urbina also received a nod from the Mountain West with three player of the week citations and a spot on the All-MWC singles team. He clinched the crown for the Cougars at the Harvard Kick-Off Tournament and posted a 27-12 record for the season.
Newcomer Spencer Smith played a role for BYU. He teamed with Urbina to earn top honors in doubles at the Boise State Fall Classic and advanced to the final of the Utah Invitational, recording big wins over the No. 1 players at both Utah and Utah State. Smith returned to action after recovering from an ankle injury at the beginning of the dual season. He was the only freshman to consistently feature in the lineup, playing mostly at the No. 5 position. Smith ended his true freshman season with 27 wins, 10 losses and was named to the Academic All-MWC team.
With a deep, experienced and talented lineup, the Cougars competed with 12 ranked teams over the course of the season, four of which were in the top 40. The team won the Harvard Kick-Off Tournament as well as making it to the final of the prestigious HEB Invitational.
A 4-2 semifinal loss to TCU ended BYU’s run in the MWC Tournament. In its first appearance in the NCAA Championships since 2001, the team suffered another 4-2 loss, falling in the first round after a close match up with Fresno State.
The Cougars finished first in the Mountain Region and were ranked No. 36 nationally.
Losing Mears as a leader and player will no doubt be an adjustment for BYU. But with experienced upperclassmen taking the reigns and two solid newcomers slated to join the team, the Cougars will look forward to another exciting and successful season in 2011.