March 4, 2014
RENO, Nev. - The University of Nevada Wolf Pack men's tennis team has overcome some competitive disadvantages this season and has surged into the national rankings.
The Wolf Pack men's tennis team finally comes home for its first home matches of the year beginning on Friday with Montana. Nevada sits at 6-2 this season, with one of its most recent wins coming against UC Santa Barbara. The team has been playing well as a unit, firing on nearly all cylinders. Last week, Nevada was ranked as the No. 71 team in the country by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, its first appearance in the top 75 all season. The two team losses came against a pair of the top 50 teams in the nation: No. 49 San Diego State in what was only Nevada's second match of the spring, and most recently to No. 28 Pepperdine.
"We want to come out and defend our courts, especially for the first time this season," said Erik Burton, Nevada men's tennis head coach. "Montana and Grand Canyon are no easy matches for us, we expect two tough teams here this weekend. Every match is going to be big and tough, but we're looking forward to having a crowd at home to back us."
One Wolf Pack player is undefeated thus far in match play: No. 7 ITA Mountain Region player Victor Ouvrard holds a 7-0 record, while Ryan Andrada is currently 6-1. Doubles has also been a success for Ouvrard, as he and partner Robert Allan are 8-0, including a victory over the No. 7 doubles team in the nation from Pepperdine.
"This has been a great start to our season considering that all of the matches have been on the road," Burton said. The team believes that it can compete for the Mountain West Conference title. The conference is stocked with talented tennis players, but the Wolf Pack players believe that they will be in the mix for the title."
That Nevada believes in its chances this season belies the challenges that the program faces every day. Those challenges include not having courts suited to competition on campus, forcing the student-athletes to be shuttled six miles from campus to Caughlin Athletic Club for practices and home matches. The first eight matches of the season were on the road, and only 10 percent of the matches are at home. Nevada has no indoor facility to allow for practice and competition during the cold-weather seasons
The rigors of competitive tennis leads to constant demands on the team's equipment budget for necessities such as shoes, tennis balls and strings.
"Unlike basketball, which is played on a smooth floor, tennis is played on a rough, sandpaper-like surface," Burton explained. "Tennis is the least forgiving sport on shoes with running, sliding, stopping and starting on a cement court with an acrylic top coat that would make a sandy beach on the Florida coastline jealous. It is sandpaper grinding against rubber, and the student-athletes go through shoes every two to three weeks and that's with playing until the hole exposes the big toe."
"This season I anticipate going through 10 pairs of shoes per player."
With an average travel roster of seven or eight student-athletes, that could be up to 80 pairs of shoes. The Wolf Pack can barely keep tennis balls bouncing on the rough surface. The team supplies its own balls for practices as well as home matches, plus any matches being hosted for two visiting teams, which will occur three times this season.
"The power displayed by Nevada players chew through tennis balls in just one practice session. The balls are so bad at the end, that they aren't even fit for dogs to chase," Burton said. "The number of tennis balls used by the program this season will be more than 3,600. Similarly, the players bust strings on a continual basis."
Those equipment needs place a burden on a budget that is primarily ear-marked for travel because of all the road matches with the lack of an indoor or on-campus facility.
However, the team begins a month-long home stand on March 7 with Montana, and March 9 with Grand Canyon, both at Caughlin Athletic Club.
"The players are very excited to have home matches," Burton said. "In fact, our 10 scheduled Division I home matches are a big gain over previous years when we hosted as few as two or three home matches."
Burton has assembled an international cast of players from France to Russia, and even Australia. The team was young last season, but all six starters returned with a new wealth of experience.
"These student-athletes are very competitive and can hold their own on the court," Burton said. "This is the most powerful men's team we've assembled at Nevada."
The team will have nearly the full month of March to battle it out on its "home" courts of Caughlin Athletic Club. Burton just wants the community to come support the squad and watch some great upcoming matches.
"I hope that local tennis fans and Reno will come out to the Caughlin Athletic Club to see a talented group of athletes who play their hearts out and rip the covers off of tennis balls," Burton said. "How much they can achieve is up to them, but the talent and drive is there.
"These players compete a total of 144 days of the year. They practice almost daily from September to mid-May, with an exception through the month of December, and play 25 dates between tournaments and dual matches. The guys have practiced and played matches and tournaments on their own to be prepared as well. There is very little down time for these student-athletes."
Nevada will host its first match on March 7 against Montana, and results can be found at www.NevadaWolfPack.com. The matches will be held at Caughlin Athletic Club (4100 Caughlin Pkwy, Reno, NV 89519). You can donate to Nevada men's tennis through the Match Point Club, a fundraising effort to help the Nevada men's tennis team with the cost of its necessities. To donate, visit the men's tennis page on NevadaWolfPack.com.
-- @NevadaWolfPack --