Junior Jose Lechuga hopes to lead the Men's Tennis Team to a Conference Championship (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
The BYU Men's tennis team is on the brink of making a run for it all in the 2005 season. With new, talented, and exciting additions to the team combined with the age and experience of five returning veterans the sky is the limit for the Cougars.
Last year, with one of the most difficult schedules in recent memory, the Cougars made serious strides and gained valuable experience. The team ended the year ranked 69th nationally after beating #30 ranked Cal Berkeley in a 4-3 decision.
"Last year's schedule was really tough," said Head Coach Brad Pearce. "But we learned a lot and now were looking forward to this year."
And there is good reason to be excited about the Cougars this year. Coming into the new season, the Cougars are loaded with young, exciting and very talented players. Many were among the top ranked recruits out of the fertile recruiting grounds of Southern California. In fact, Coach Pearce's tennis colleagues say BYU had one of the best recruiting years in the country.
The incoming freshmen are Shane LaPorte, Jonathan Sanchez and Zach Warren. Also new to the team are talented transfers Jeff Das from the University of San Diego and James Ludlow by way of Boise State.
Each of the new players is expected to make major contributions this year. Pearce believes each of the newcomers are talented, hardworking individuals who are capable of greatness.
But the key to this year's team is the experience and play of the returning stars. Juniors Jose Lechuga and Nima Roshan are great singles players and a proven doubles team, showing their strength and experience by winning the BYU Invitational in September.
"They are both very competitive, fiery guys," Coach Pearce said. "They will have a great year this year in both singles and doubles."
Also returning for the cougars is sophomore ace Chip Hand. Last year Hand posted some great victories for the Cougars and Coach Pearce has high expectations for him again this year.
International players Dominik Kauflold and Ivan Kokurin round out the team. "Dominik upset last year's #40 ranked player in the country,so he's already proven he's capable of beating anyone in college tennis." Pearce said.
Kokurin, BYU's first athlete from Uzbekistan, has been working hard on the court and in the classroom this fall and will be ready for the season opener in January.
"The biggest challenge for us as a coaching staff is to manage all this talent that we have and to work hard at continual improvement throughout the season," Pearce said. "This is a really good bunch of kids, who are friends both on and off the court."
While their talent is no secret, Pearce believes what really makes this team special is their work ethic and friendship.
"Most of the players have known each other for years having grown up together and competed against each other their whole lives," Pearce said. "It's great, now, to have them competing with each other and BYU."
That work ethic will come in handy with tough teams such as Rice, TCU and UCLA on the schedule in 2005.
"We are going to have another tough schedule this year, but that is a good thing as we will all be stretched both physically and mentally," Pearce said.
While the team may be young this season, they are talented and work hard. His goals as a coach, however, never vary: Regular season MWC winner, MWC championship, top 25 national ranking, and the final 16 in the NCAA tournament.
"I can't say enough about them as individuals and players." Pearce said. "They are all very committed to being the best tennis players they can be, the best students they can be, and the best people they can be."
Expect nothing less than excellence from this team in 2005.