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Youth and potential abundant in Iowa men’s tennis

BY CHARLIE GREEN | SEPTEMBER 11, 2014 5:00 AM

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If observers were to look at the Iowa men’s tennis team last year versus what it is today, they might think they were looking at two completely different teams — and that wouldn’t be far from the truth.

Six seniors from last year’s team have graduated, and longtime head coach Steve Houghton has handed the reins over to 28-year-old Ross Wilson, who will serve as the program’s interim head coach this season.

“I think the good thing about Ross is he’s a little bit younger,” senior Matt Hagen said. “We can kind of relate to him a little bit more; he has a little bit more fire.”

Wilson is indeed young compared with the 65-year-old Houghton, and he is set to take over a team that will consist of four freshmen — accounting for half of the roster.

“With the majority of these guys being so young and not having Big Ten experience, you never know what could happen out there,” Wilson said. “But we’ve got a good group, a lot of talent on this team.”

While college experience may not be abundant, talent certainly is. Freshman Jake Jacoby and Josh Silverstein are both five-star recruits. Newcomer Lefteris Theodorou was ranked as the No. 1 under-18 player in Greece and ranked as high as No. 31 in Europe.

Still, the jump in the level of competition will be a concern for Wilson and his team. And fewer than three weeks into the fall semester, the freshmen are still getting acquainted with life in college.

“We’re still new to school,” Silverstein said. “If we were just coming here to play tennis, it would be a lot different, but there are so many other things we need to juggle.”

High school has long been over for Silverstein and the other freshmen, and the college grind is only just beginning.

Following 7 a.m. workouts, their days consist of classes, practice, and studying.

But with four years to leave their mark on Iowa men’s tennis, the potential for this youthful team going forward is boundless.

“We’re going to have to look good as freshmen, which will attract other recruits,” Silverstein said. “As we keep doing better, better players will want to come to play for our school. It’s like a chain reaction.”

The other half of the team consists of two seniors, one junior, and one sophomore. After finishing 1-10 in conference play last year, the quick development of the freshmen will be crucial to the team’s success in the spring.

“I just hope they come to practice and work hard every day,” senior Hagen said. “As freshmen, they’re going to have those on-and-off days, but if they show up and work hard every day, that’s all you can ask for.”

While Hagen and the other veterans on the team understand what it takes on and off the court at this level, Silverstein and his fellow freshmen are just finding out.

“Junior tennis and college tennis are a lot different,” Silverstein said. “In junior tennis, you go out, move your feet, keep a lot of balls on the court, and you win. Here, guys are big, and they’re strong, and there’s a whole different mentality.”


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