The Washington and Lee men’s tennis program finds itself in a place it hasn’t visited in a long time – facing a season after failing to accomplish its goals the year before. The 2008-09 season was a successful one, with the Generals finishing 15-6 overall and going undefeated during the conference season. However, dropping the conference tournament final to Hampden-Sydney has given the program a different perspective on accomplishing its goals.
“Our goals are similar to any season that I have been here,” said 10th-year Head Coach David Detwiler. “We want to defeat the ranked opponents on our schedule, win the ODAC and advance to the NCAA Tournament, and attempt to make it to the NCAA quarterfinals. These guys know what it feels like to lose to Hampden-Sydney, who played very well at the end of the year. Last year we were a little young and this team knows it must work harder and the guys are out for some revenge.”
The fall season provided plenty of promise, with the Generals winning three of the four brackets at the ODAC singles championship and earning a No. 24 preseason ranking. First-year Hayden White fell in the No. 1 singles bracket, but picked up steam as the season progressed and won the ITA Atlantic South Singles Championship. He advanced to the ITA Small College National Championships, where he finished fourth overall in earning All-America honors. White, who completed the fall with a 10-3 singles mark, will look to secure the Generals’ No. 1 singles position as he enters the spring ranked second regionally and fifth nationally.
“Winning the regional singles championship put a target on Hayden’s back, but we think that he can hold his own at the No. 1 singles position,” noted Detwiler. “Success has come pretty quickly for him, but he knows what he wants and he has the ability to compete for a national championship. The No. 1 spot has always been a tough spot for us in the past, but we think that he can hold his own there.”
Beyond White at No. 1, Detwiler believes that he has a number of solid players that will compete for every top singles position. Whether someone will play No. 2 or No. 8 will be determined by challenge matches prior to the season.
Among those that will compete for the top singles positions are senior Alex Brooke, juniors Will Hall and Tim Watson, and sophomores Jeremy Becht, Ben Fass, Michael Freeman and Jonathan Gaffney.
Brooke has played sparingly in singles over his first three seasons, carrying an 11-4 overall record. However, he is one of the team’s top doubles players and is a two-time all-conference selection. He owns a 42-16 career doubles record and Detwiler believes Brooke can contribute greatly this season in both singles and doubles.
“Alex hasn’t played much singles, but he is a dangerous singles player,” cautioned Detwiler. “He has an excellent serve and he attacks the ball. This is the most committed that we have see him – he is very focused this year and he wants to do well for the team.”
Detwiler cites Hall as his most improved player and a candidate to challenge for one of the top singles positions. He is coming off an impressive fall season that saw him win the No. 3 singles flight at the ODAC singles championship and he has consistently challenged White in practices. Hall went 7-1 in singles and 10-3 in doubles last year en route to garnering First Team All-ODAC honors at No. 1 doubles.
“Will’s game has come a long way over the last 2 ½ years,” said Detwiler. “He has put in a lot of hard work and he has been very coachable. He is a smart player and our team’s most improved as well.”
Watson will also figure in the mix after earning First Team All-ODAC honors at No. 1 doubles last spring while playing with Hall. For his career, he claims a 14-9 singles record and a 14-14 doubles mark.
“Tim is our best athlete and he his extremely powerful and intense on the court,” said Detwiler. “He is also an excellent doubles player.”
The sophomore class is what will make or break the Generals’ season. Their development from year one to year two will determine the team’s depth in positions 2-8.
Becht had the most impressive first season in posting ODAC Rookie of the Year honors. He was a First Team All-ODAC selection at No. 2 singles and finished his initial year with a 19-8 singles record and a 14-9 doubles record.
“Jeremy has already beaten some top-notch players and he has the ability to rise to the level of his competition,” stated Detwiler. “He has to be in excellent condition to be effective since his game involves endurance and stamina. He’s a grinder and so far this season he has been very focused.”
Fass earned First Team All-ODAC honors at No. 4 singles during his rookie season and he looks to figure in the mix again this spring. He went 19-7 in singles and 3-1 in doubles last year.
“Ben comes through in big matches, he is Mr. Clutch,” said Detwiler. “He is similar to Becht in that he is a counterpuncher and baseliner that makes you work for every point. He is a solid player that gives us great depth.”
Freeman also looks ready to elevate his game during his sophomore campaign. He finished the fall season with a 5-1 overall record and took the title at the No. 2 singles flight during the ODAC Singles Championship. Freeman earned First Team All-ODAC honors at No. 5 singles during his rookie season, finishing with an 18-10 singles record and a 5-5 doubles mark.
“Michael is on of the hardest workers on the team and is one of the most improved players as well,” noted Detwiler. “He is a serious and dedicated player who loves the game.”
Gaffney finished as the runner-up in the No. 2 singles bracket at the ODAC singles championship during the fall and he carries a 15-13 career singles record and a 13-10 career doubles mark into the spring season. He was a Second Team All-ODAC pick at No. 6 singles and a First Team All-ODAC honoree at No. 3 doubles last year.
“Jonathan is the most talented ball-striker on the team,” stated Detwiler. “He has the ability to beat anybody on any given day, but he needs to improve upon his consistency. He is one of our top doubles players as well.”
As for doubles, Detwiler believes there are any number of combinations that could work and he needs time to figure out the best chemistry. However, he believes that teams of Watson/Hall, Brooke/White and Gaffney/Becht are certainly possible.
“This year’s doubles should be strong because of depth,” said Detwiler. “We just need to match them properly and coach them up.”
As usual, the Generals will test their mettle against one of the strongest schedules in Division III. W&L will play 10 of the preseason Top 25 schools and will also face Division I powerhouse Furman University.
“We want our guys to play against top competition so that they can begin to peak around conference tournament time,” offered Detwiler. “It all comes down to winning the conference tournament and we want to give ourselves the best chance to do that.”
As for other keys to achieving their goals and returning to the NCAA Tournament, Detwiler offered that the team needs to stay healthy and learn from the experiences gained last year and earlier this fall.
“We are still young and realistically, finishing in the Top 15 may be a bit of an overachievement,” he added. “But, if it all comes into place – if we win some close matches and if we stay healthy, we can make some noise. It all boils down to the guys playing well and I think we will.”