Men’s tennis hopes tough non-conference schedule provides boost

BY BEN ROSS | JANUARY 27, 2011 7:10 AM

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Steve Houghton says the Big Ten is in the top three for the most competitive tennis conferences in the country.

This isn’t enough for the 29-year head men’s tennis coach, who boasts that he has scheduled the toughest nonconference games since arriving in 1982. The schedule includes nationally ranked programs such as Arkansas (No. 70) and Santa Clara (No. 54). The team will travel to the Sunshine State over spring break to play up-and-coming programs such as Central Florida, Southern Florida, and Florida Atlantic as well.

Even though the men’s tennis team has posted a winning record in the past three seasons, it hasn’t been enough to make it to the NCAA tennis championships. Every year, 64 teams are selected to compete in a tournament similar to that of Division-I basketball’s “March Madness.” This year, the event will be held at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

The Hawkeyes have come close to making it to the big dance, missing the cut by just one game last season. Senior Austen Kauss is optimistic about this season.

“I look forward to keeping the momentum going from last season,” he said. “I will keep working toward helping the guys out and keep motivating the team.”

Houghton welcomes the upcoming challenges.

“We have had three-straight winning seasons; we will try to make it four,” he said.

He is very excited with his combination of old and young talent, he said.

“We would like to jump into the top tier of the Big Ten,” he said. “We have a great mix of upperclassmen and freshmen.”

Houghton said he sees junior Marc Bruche as controlling the No. 1 singles spot during the season, with junior Will Vasos and senior Nikita Zotov competing for the No. 2 and No. 3 singles spots.

Kauss will take either the four or five spot, and a round robin will be played in practice this week among sophomores Mitch Beckert and Garret Dunn, freshman Chase Tomlins, and junior Tom Mroziewicz to determine the sixth singles spot.

Houghton said he’s proud of the way the younger Hawkeyes have been playing, and is excited about the improvement they’ve made since the fall season.

He hopes the improvement is enough to slow down Big Ten tennis powerhouses such as Ohio State (No. 4), Illinois (16), Michigan (25), and Wisconsin (29).

The season will begin at 1 p.m. Jan. 30 against Creighton in the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex.

“Beckert and Tomlins both had good falls and a good chance to get into the lineup this season,” Houghton said. “We had good performances from them in the Big Ten singles and doubles then. Virtually everybody got better.”

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