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Men's tennis seeks better times

BY JORDAN BUCHER | JANUARY 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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The start of the 2014 season is just around the corner for the Iowa men’s tennis team.

The Hawkeyes finished last season with a 7-17 overall record and placed last in the Big Ten for the second-consecutive year. However, the Hawkeyes will be the most experienced team in the Big Ten this season, with a 10-man roster composed of six seniors and only one freshman.

The Hawkeyes return this season hungry for success.

“[We] have a lot of experience, which is a good thing,” head coach Steve Houghton said. “The guys who have gone through and suffered the last couple of years [from losses] are really determined to have a better year individually and team-wise, too.”

The Hawkeyes will take on a very competitive Big Ten this year, being the only team in the conference that does not have a national ranking.

“If you end up finishing top five in the Big Ten, that almost guarantees you will make it to NCAAs,” said Houghton, in his 33rd year at the helm of the Hawkeyes. “There is something to be gained from every Big Ten match.”

In his coaching career at Iowa, Houghton has recorded the most wins in program history, compiling a 345-381 (.475) career-record.

Houghton receives help from assistant coach Ross Wilson, a former two-time NCAA All-American at Ohio State and 2012 National Assistant Coach of the Year, who joined the Hawkeye coaching staff in August 2013.

“We are really happy to have Ross here,” senior Michael Swank said. “He’s been a great new addition for our team. It’s a lot more tennis-focused compared with last year. You can tell already that everybody is a lot more confident with his tennis game, and we’re making huge strides to get some good wins this year.”

Swank returns to the Hawkeye program as one of the top performers. He competed on Iowa’s No. 1 doubles team in 2012, winning a team-high eight victories. Last fall, Swank finished with a 4-6 record in singles play.

Hawkeye newcomer freshman Nils Hallestrand will also help lead Iowa this season. The native of Danderyd, Sweden, finished the fall season with a 4-5 singles record.

The Hawkeyes will kick off their season at home on Saturday with a double-header against Illinois State beginning at 10 a.m. and Western Illinois beginning at 3 p.m. at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex.

“I can speak for the team that we’ve been really looking forward to this [meet],” senior Juan Estenssoro said. “We’ve been practicing hard for this since August, and I really think we are ready both physically and mentally.”

However, the Iowa men’s tennis team will not start the season on the best foot.

The Hawkeyes have had an injury-plagued off-season, with almost half of its team battling some form of injury during the course of the year. Two or three of the guys in the usual lineup will not compete on Saturday because of various injuries, making a tough Illinois State team even harder to beat.

“We are going to have to make use of good common judgment for the next week or two,” Houghton said. “Obviously, we want to win every match, but we also don’t want to put a guy out for a good four or five weeks, either.”


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