Hawkeye tennis' Speer coping with injuries in final season

BY TOM CLOS | MARCH 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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The 2012 season was supposed to be Iowa men's tennis player Chris Speer's big opportunity.

After participating in only five matches over three seasons, the senior finally got the chance to prove himself on the court last fall.

The Illinois native responded by winning 10-straight matches, claiming a singles title at the Drake Invitational, and finishing as the team leader in singles victories with a 10-2 record. He also had a solid showing in doubles play, going 4-4 and picking up a doubles title at the Purdue Invitational.

But then fate reared its ugly head.

"Over [winter] break, an incident occurred where I had a big fall and tore a tendon in my right finger," Speer said. "[Doctors] originally said I would be fine in two weeks, but the hand surgeon told me I needed surgery."

He was confined to a cast for the next six weeks.

"I had to do a lot of physical therapy and rehab to get the strength and movement back," he said. "That process took a big chunk of the spring season."

Iowa head coach Steve Houghton said he expected the senior to be one of the team's leaders and saw him as an anchor at the bottom of the lineup based on his fall performance.

"Chris earned a position in the starting lineup and was going to be a really good No. 5 or No. 6 guy for us," Houghton said. "His confidence level was sky-high, and he was all set up for that to happen."

The Hawkeyes have struggled to find stability at the bottom of the singles lineup all season, so the injury has hurt them even more than expected. Iowa has rotated nine players through the No. 5 and No. 6 positions this season, all with a combined record of 7-15.

"[His loss] has meant a lot," Houghton said. "Chris put together a great fall and beat some good Big Ten players."

Though he's not on the court, Speer's presence on the sidelines has been felt by his teammates.

Junior Garret Dunn, who teamed with Speer in doubles play last fall, said Speer looked primed for a big spring. His positive attitude has helped the team get through the difficult times this season has so often presented, Dunn said.

"Chris' best characteristic is that he's always been steadfast and supportive of all the guys who are playing, even if he isn't," Dunn said. "Last fall, he proved that he deserved to be in the lineup, and it's a shame that he's injured."

Fellow senior Tom Mroziewicz says he doesn't know if he will ever see Speer on the court again.

"We didn't know if he was ever going to hit [a ball]," Mroziewicz said. "He has come back so well from it through all the rehab."

Mroziewicz said Speer's perseverance has "inspired us a bit."

Speer said he'll call it a career rather than seek another year of eligibility should his comeback fall short this season.

"I'm going to graduate for sure with a finance degree," he said. "I'm going to move on in my life."

Even though only four weeks remain in the season, Houghton said he hopes that Speer will get to see the court at least one more time before he graduates.

"There's still plenty of Big Ten season left, and if anybody deserves to have something right go for them, it's him," Houghton said. "The odds are that he'll have an opportunity to play before we are done."

Speer continues to work on rehabbing his hand, trying to avoid what would be a lost final season, but he said he's beginning to understand it may end up being just that.

"Things happen. I've got to move on through these few weeks and try to give my all out there." he said. "But it sucks going 10-2 in the fall and to end my senior year like this. It's horrible."

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