2005 Husky Men's Tennis Season Preview
Jan. 13, 2005
The 2005 season could be a year to remember for Washington men's tennis. The Huskies return six singles starters from a solid squad that finished fourth in the difficult Pac-10, featured a national champion in All-American Championships winner Alex Vlaski, and boasted the ITA National Rookie of the Year in Alex Slovic.
In 2004, Washington reached as high as 10th in the rankings, but a few close losses kept them from maintaining that position. Head Coach Matt Anger, in his 11th year at the helm, expects to use last season's results as a launching point to reach new heights this year.
'We were building on last year for this year,' Anger said. 'My only disappointment with last year was that we lost some of those tight matches. I'd love to have hung in around No. 10 (in the national rankings). I want us to see ourselves as a top team from start to finish this season.'
With last year's squad nearly intact, the Huskies must rely on internal improvement to turn the corner and become an elite team.
'You've got to get a little better,' Anger said. 'That starts as a team and making sure that every person knows their responsibilities. Those guys individually have to improve themselves so that they can be counted on with the role they're playing.'
The roles are clear for two-time All-American Vlaski, and Slovic, who earned a career-high No. 14 preseason ranking. UW's top two singles players were a combined 55-16 a year ago and will again be one of the top duos in the nation in 2005. The pair has already established themselves as one of the best Husky duos in history.
'We've had three great duos that have been top-20 type teams' Anger said. 'In 1999 there was Eric Drew and Robert Kendrick. Two years ago we had Alex Vlaski and Matt Hanlin, and now Vlaski and Alex Slovic.'
However, Washington will not just rely on two players. The Huskies have a solid blend of youth and experience, with three seniors hungry to go out on top and a stellar sophomore class looking to take flight with a year of experience under their belt. Seniors Vlaski, Christoph Palmanshofer and Peter Scharler will provide veteran leadership for UW and the drive to make their final year special.
'Alex Vlaski has always had a sense of urgency, and Christoph and Peter definitely have it now too,' Anger said. 'I've been really impressed with them; they're playing and acting like you want seniors to. I think they're shocked that their seniors. It's gone so fast they probably feel like they're sophomores. But I think they're really going to be the type of seniors we need.'
The Huskies will need to fill the shoes of graduated senior Nick Weiss, who was one of UW's top doubles player last season going 22-8. Also departed is Scott Felsenthal, who transferred to his hometown University of Memphis after his junior season.
Helping to offset the departure of two players is UW's lone newcomer, Andy Kuharszky, a talented freshman from Hungary. Rounding out the roster are sophomores Daniel Chu, Chris Floyd and Mike Ricks. Chu played as high as No. 3 in singles last season and Floyd and Ricks are each coming off excellent fall seasons.
Anger has always asked his squads for steady improvement from the previous season, but the talent on the 2005 Husky men's tennis team calls for raised expectations.
'With these seniors and with some of the talent we have with the younger guys, I think we are capable of being our best team ever,' says Anger. 'Historically our goal each year is to try and take another step. But I'm actually hoping we take a few steps. Not just go one step past where Washington has gone. I'd like to take a few.'
Alex Vlaski returns to man the top spot for the Dawgs in his senior season. In his first three years, Vlaski climbed the ranks of collegiate tennis to establish himself as one of the nation's elite players in both singles and doubles. Last season, Vlaski became the first Husky to win a national championship since 1924 by winning the All-American Championships. He was ranked as high as No. 2 - a UW record - and led the Huskies with 28 singles wins against only 8 defeats. Over the summer and fall, Vlaski took his game to the next level, competing as an amateur in professional tournaments to raise his world ranking before he turns pro after this season. Vlaski proved up to the challenge and his ATP ranking skyrocketed from the 600 range up to the 300s.
'This summer Alex was playing the best tennis of his life,' Anger said. 'He may not totally know that sometimes because he continues to be driven, which is great. The biggest thing for him is to let his best come out naturally rather than try to force it on a given day.'
The second singles spot seems secure as well with Alex Slovic coming off perhaps the best freshman year in Husky history. Slovic finished 2004 as the highest-ranked freshman in the country at No. 27 and was the only freshman on the All-Pac-10 First Team. He led the Huskies in combined singles and doubles wins with 50 and capped it off by being named the ITA National Rookie of the Year. The Huskies expect even better results in his sophomore campaign.
'Where Slovic is going to improve most is just knowing college tennis, and knowing the season, and knowing what it's like in university life. He's going to be more comfortable in school; he's going to be more comfortable in his apartment. All those things are going to free him up so that he's going to be playing better and feeling that much more comfortable here' says Anger.
Senior Christoph Palmanshofer and sophomore Daniel Chu split time in the third and fourth singles positions last season and figure to do the same in 2005. Chu had an impressive 18-12 record for a freshman asked to step right in and play upper-level singles. He also wound up playing No. 1 doubles with Vlaski and qualifying for the NCAA Championships after several major doubles wins.
'Daniel Chu really improved with the doubles last year and paired up well with Alex Vlaski, so that's something we may look to do again this year,' says Anger. 'I think he's seen what Vlaski, Slovic and Palmanshofer have done to be ranked and Daniel wants to get in there with the singles as well. He's obviously off to a great start with the doubles. We haven't had too many freshmen in the doubles rankings and making the NCAA draw, but he's accomplished both of those feats. I think he wants that with the singles as well.'
Palmanshofer earned a preseason ranking of No. 88 and despite a solid 17-12 singles record last season, is intent on better results in his senior year.
'Christoph Palmanshofer has been very determined in practice and is doing well,' says Anger.''Christoph has come in more ready for this college season than any other year. So I'm hoping that carries through this season.'
One of the unheralded heroes for Washington in recent years has been senior Peter Scharler. Last season, Scharler was third on the team in singles wins and had an outstanding 17-4 mark in dual play at fourth and fifth singles. Scharler ranks ninth in career singles winning percentage and Anger hopes Scharler continues his winning ways.
'Peter's in the top-ten of our career list for win-loss percentage and I'm looking for more of it. He's such a team guy and plays hard in the matches for the team. He is very spirited on the court and I want that to keep going. I see no reason why it won't. I think this will be his best year.'
Competing for the sixth singles spot will likely be a trio of youngsters in sophomores Floyd and Ricks and the freshman Kuharszky. Floyd saw the most action at No. 6 singles last year, and made his case with a breakout 7-1 fall season.
'Chris Floyd is doing pretty well and he got to start some last year but wasn't really quite ready for the top schools and the Pac-10 matches,' Anger said. 'But looking at him right now I think he could be ready this year. He has shown right away that he can make everybody work. Michael Ricks is also doing fine and he's able to throw so many different things at a guy. He still needs to make sure the core of his game is getting up to where it's ready for the Pac-10 guys.'Working his way into the mix will be Kuharszky. Before he ever saw Andy play, Anger was already familiar with the talents he possessed.
'I played his father at Wimbledon in 1985,' says Anger.''His dad was a very smooth all-around player, he could come in or stay back, and I think Andy has those capabilities as well. He serves a lot bigger than I thought, and that's one of the things that helps guys get started quickly in college tennis.'
Russell Comes On Board
Perhaps the biggest shakeup for Washington during the offseason was the departure of 11-year veteran Assistant Coach Gordon O'Reilly, who stepped down to pursue other business opportunities.
'Gordon has been fantastic,' Anger says.''On a personal level working with him for ten years has been a lot of fun. I know I've learned a lot from Gordon and he has been a part of our highs that we've reached the last few years and we're going to miss him.'
The position did not remain vacant for long, however, as Coach Anger reached out to an unlikely source, the rival Oregon Ducks, to tab Oregon's Head Coach Chris Russell as the new Associate Head Coach for the Dawgs. Russell had spent the past 10 years turning the Ducks into a nationally respected program. Anger and Russell's teams may have competed on the court, but their friendship dated back to their playing days in the juniors. The two also shared the desire to bring national prominence to Northwest tennis.
'We're very fortunate with Chris Russell coming on board with us,' Anger says. 'We're going to have high expectations to do well but he's been a head coach in the Pac-10 for nine years so there are no surprises for him and that's great. That's going to be an advantage for us with our team when we go through the Pac-10 season and also when it comes to recruiting.'
Washington's slate of nonconference matches will provide challenging preparation for the Pac-10 season and a run through the NCAAs. The Huskies will stay home in the familiar confines of the Nordstrom Tennis Center for the first 10 dual matches and welcome in the likes of Michigan State, Texas Tech and Pepperdine. Also in that span, the Huskies will host the Great Northwest Shootout February 4-5.
Conference play takes center stage on March 25, when the Huskies host Stanford, the team that knocked them out of last year's NCAA Championships. Every team in the Pac-10 is dangerous, and the Huskies will have to be at the top of their game to take the title.
'The conference schedule will be very tough,' Anger said. 'But I would actually say that this year maybe even tougher than usual. I think Oregon has five of their starters back, as does Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona. Arizona State also has a lot of returnees. We're very happy with what we're returning but the whole conference is saying the same thing.'