2007 UCF Men's Tennis Spring Preview

Jan. 24, 2007

by Doug Richards

As soon as the 2006 spring campaign ended, Bobby Cashman was excited. UCF's veteran head coach was not looking back to the previous season, instead he was looking ahead.

Cashman knew that with the experience his young team gained competing in Conference USA for the first time, his squad would be much improved in 2007.

After all of the offseason workouts, practices and fall tournaments, 2007 is here. Cashman couldn't be happier.

The Golden Knights were green in 2006 as four freshmen were key members of the squad. This year the team is still youthful - there are only two upperclassmen on the roster - but the players learned from the squad's 11-10 season a year ago that featured matches against six nationally-ranked teams.

"We learned to play hard every match," said Cashman. "That was the big learning lesson. We are now more mature and smarter players."

During the offseason, Cashman focused on the development of his four returning sophomores - Norman Alcantara, Tarek Ben Soltane, Jimmy Roesch and Tarek Ben Soltane. Sakey posted a 16-5 singles mark in the spring and earned C-USA Freshman of the Year honors. His classmates all showed flashes of their potential as rookies and now Cashman expects more from the four players.

"This is the year when they really show if they are going to do well at this level. I feel that the sophomores are much more mature and are going to win some matches for us," said Cashman. "They should be able to compete day in and day out. The first year is about balancing school and tennis and that is usually tough for a freshman. This year, everyone is adjusted."

Sakey proved he was adjusted as a rookie. He played mostly at the bottom of the lineup, going 9-2 at No. 5. Sakey was 3-0 against league opponents and recorded a victory at No. 4 versus UAB at the league championship.

The Florida native was not the only Golden Knight to receive postseason accolades. Junior Sinan Sudas won 10 matches at the top of the lineup and garnered second-team all-league honors. Because senior Ener Gursoy was out with an injury, Sudas played at the top spot in the spring, winning eight matches.

After missing the entire spring season, Gursoy is now back. He is hoping to return to his 2004-05 form, when he was selected to the Atlantic Sun All-Conference First Team after winning 11 matches in the spring, including nine at No. 1.

With Gursoy back in the lineup, Cashman's team is deep.

"If we have an injury, someone can come in and fill-in down below. That is critical for our success," said Cashman. "If you don't have depth, it is going to be tough to compete at this level. The depth is going to help us with the long schedule."

Sudas will be expected to provide leadership to his younger teammates. A native of Turkey, Sudas has improved each year during his time at UCF and Cashman feels the junior is ready to make the jump to being an elite singles player.

"Sinan is continually improving. He has gotten a lot better," said Cashman. "He has really worked on his game and I think that will translate into success on the court this year."

Alcantara was solid as a freshman a year ago and proved his versatility by playing at every position but No. 1. He recorded seven victories in dual-match play and Cashman believes that Alcantara improved his consistency during the offseason and will be more effective in 2007.

Last year as a freshman, Ben Soltane went 10-3 playing at the bottom of the lineup in the spring. This year, Ben Soltane will anchor the middle of the lineup.

Cashman has been pleased with the development of Roesch. The sophomore posted seven singles wins in the spring of 2006 and will have a greater role this year.

"He has grown as a player," said Cashman. "Jimmy has learned how to finish a point and should be much improved this year."

Unlike the 2006 squad, this year's edition of the Golden Knights is not dominated by newcomers. The team has just two fresh faces - sophomore Danny Colon and freshman Johan Beigart.

Beigart will immediately find a spot in the singles lineup. One of the best 21 and under players in Sweden, Beigart played against top competition in his native country and will bring more international experience to the team.

"Johan has a big serve and a great forehand," said Cashman. "He is an extremely focused player. He is a real competitor who brings a lot to the team."

A sophomore junior college transfer from Jacksonville who enrolled at UCF prior to the spring semester, Colon provides more depth for Cashman. He spent last season competing in amateur tournaments and will need time to fine-tune his game.

Depth will be important for the Golden Knights as the squad again faces a challenging schedule. UCF will play seven opponents who finished last season in the national rankings, including Florida and Clemson, who both concluded 2006 in the top-30. In late April, the team will participate in its second C-USA Championship. The event is being held in Houston, Texas.

"If we stay healthy and have no major injuries, I think we can be effective," said Cashman. "We have many opportunities to beat some very good teams. It should be interesting."