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Senior a pleasant surprise for men's tennis

BY RYAN MURPHY | SEPTEMBER 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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In the final match of his first tournament as a Hawkeye, then-freshman Chris Speer earned his first college victory by beating Butler's Ben Shafer (6-0, 6-0) at the Purdue Invitational on Oct. 12, 2008.

The Vernon Hills, Ill., native didn't compete again for the Hawkeyes for nearly three years.

Now one of four seniors on the Iowa men's tennis roster, Speer returned to West Lafayette, Ind., on Sept. 16-18 and reeled off five-consecutive victories in the consolation bracket of Flight B. Speer also won the Flight C Doubles draw with sophomore Joey White.

Throw in an undefeated record in singles action (3-0) at the Drake Fall Invitational last weekend, and Speer is one of Iowa's hottest players after two events; he's 8-1 in singles play and 12-2 overall this fall.

"It's been awesome," he said. "It's been key to build my confidence and just keep going match by match."

Iowa head coach Steve Houghton, who is in his 31st year as Hawkeye head coach, said Speer's achievements became possible through the perseverance and dedication of the senior.

"This success would not have happened if he had not done things right the past three years, which sometimes gets lost," Houghton said. "He's had a great attitude, and in terms of practice, you would think he was a guy who was in the lineup every day."

Senior Will Vasos, whose second event as a Hawkeye coincided with Speer's first, agreed that his teammate's attitude is what allowed him to improve without getting a chance to compete.

"He's probably one of the hardest workers on the team and comes to practice with the same attitude every day," Vasos said. "He's really making the most of the opportunities he's getting now."

Not getting to play for most of his career was a challenge, Speer said, but he was able to stay positive.

The 5-9 Speer added he has treated his entire time as a Hawkeye as a learning experience.

"It's a big learning process, and I'm not playing, I'm helping my teammates out," Speer said. "I knew that one day, if I worked hard at it and played well, I'd get a chance. I'll keep going from here on forward."

After not playing for three years, no one on the Hawkeyes knew how Speer would respond when given the opportunity in a tournament against a conference opponent. Houghton said his senior showed his ability to be a contributor in his final year at Iowa by stepping up to the plate.

"The thing we didn't know — until he played at Purdue — was how he would respond in a match-type situation," the coach said. "He responded really well, and he continued to do the same thing at Drake."

Speer's performance has put him in a position to potentially become a spring starter, Houghton said, despite spending three years without playing a match.

"I wouldn't have been surprised if he had done reasonably well; I always thought he had it in him to do that," he said. "But what he did certainly exceeded expectations, and he is putting himself in the running for playing in the spring by what he's done so far in the fall."


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