Stevens: Lobos Men's Tennis -- 2013 Season Preview
Jan. 19, 2013
New Mexico Lobos Men's Tennis - 2013 Season Preview
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
At a glance, the personnel losses that Coach Alan Dils must adjust to from the 2012 season seem staggering. Gone are four seniors who provided wins, depth and leadership.
So what is Dils' biggest concern for the spring season of 2013?
"Our biggest problem this year might be having some guys who are very good tennis players not getting on the court," said Dils.
Yep, Dils once again is loaded - and once again has reloaded. The Lobos lost Carl Ho, Ben Dunbar, Phil Anderson and Matthew Neeld from 2012, but return three headliners in Jadon Phillips, Conor Berg and Samir Iftikhar.
After that, Dils has 10 other Lobos to dip into in puzzling together his 2013 lineups. "We have 13 guys, which is a big number for us," said the Lobo coach.
It's likely that Phillips, Berg and Iftikhar will fill in Dils' top three spots in singles. You might think that Dils is worried about replacing the 24 singles wins produced by Ho and the 20 provided by Dunbar. Dils isn't worried.
"We might be stronger this year in singles than last year and a big part of that is the rise of Samir," said Dils. "I expect he'll be playing one or two, him and Jadon. Samir has just made such a huge improvement. And Conor will win a lot of matches at his spot.
"Then it's Riaan, Mads, Mitch, James, Andy, Rodolfo, Simon and on and on. It just keeps going."
The question for the spring and Mountain West runs of 2013 might not be who is on the court, but who isn't on the court. Dils has some choices to make.
His deep and talented roster includes Tanner Berkabile, Evan Corona-Saunders, Riaan Du Toit, Chris Eriksson, Mads Hegelund, James Hignett, Simon Hegelund, Rodolfo Jauregui, Mitch McDaniels and Andrew Van Der Vyver. Mads Hegelund and McDaniels combined for 33 singles wins in 2012.
Phillips basically had a lock on the No. 1 spot for the past two seasons, but the talented senior might be pushed for playing time in that slot by Iftikhar - for a simple reason. Iftikhar has taken his game - and his work ethic - to another level.
"Samir is a great example to the team because of how hard he works and the extra hours he puts in," said Dils. "He doesn't just put in the extra hours on the court, but also in conditioning. He is playing very well and he is extremely motivated."
UNM ended the fall season at the ITA Regionals where Iftikhar finished with runner-up honors losing to the tourney's No. 1 seed. Du Toit and Hignett took the consolation title in doubles.
A huge key to UNM's success in 2012 was doubles play. Dunbar had 27 doubles wins, Ho 25 wins, and Anderson and 19. Dils says the development of his doubles attack is a key to the 2013 season and making a run at a 2013 NCAA invite.
"Doubles is kind of a question mark," said Dils. "Jadon and Conor were nationally ranked with other partners and there is a chance they could play a lot together. But we need to juggle some players around there. We might not be as good in doubles this year simply because we were so good in doubles last year.
"James (Hignett, 30 doubles wins last year) should be in there. We'll have to see how some of the younger guys fit in. They can all play doubles, but we have to find the right fits. We'll have a lot of variety in combinations early and try to lock in for the back half of the season."
The Lobos added two freshmen a week ago in Van Der Vyver and Jauregui. "They are very good," said Dils. "We have a fantastic freshman class which helps us cover our issues with depth."
The team to beat going into the Mountain West season appears to be Boise State, based on the latest ITA rankings. The Broncos are listed No. 38 followed by Fresno State at 50, New Mexico at 61 and San Diego State at 67. Iftikhar is UNM's highest ranking individual at No. 73.
Boise State beat UNM in the Mountain West finals in 2012. If a team doesn't win the MW title and get the automatic NCAA bid, that team should shoot for a Top 40 ranking in hopes of grabbing an at-large bid.
"It's a tough conference. There is no weak team," said Dils. "There are very good teams and teams who have upgraded. I expect us to be challenging for the championship. We can beat everyone in our conference and we could lose to anyone."
Dils said two other keys to success in 2013 are leadership and team chemistry. He likes both elements on his team.
"You always want more leadership," said Dils. "Jadon is a fantastic leader. He has done a great job in that area. But you also want to see leadership from younger guys.
"Chemistry is a process, but I think it's extremely important for a team. We talk a lot about it, but ultimately it has to come from the guys. For us to win the Mountain West championship, our guys have to be out there pulling for each other and it has to be sincere. I think our chemistry on this team is very good."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.