2008 Men's Tennis Season Preview

Jan. 22, 2008

Eager. Hungry.

Those are the words UCF head coach Bobby Cashman uses to describe his team this year. As the spring season nears, Cashman is getting his players prepared to battle and compete at the very top of their game.

"I think at this level, you have to be ready for every match and the numbers will take care of themselves," said Cashman. "I'm looking at getting them ready everyday. That's my job along with coach (Brandon) Stokes is to get them ready everyday."

The veteran head coach had his squad ready bright and early each day in the fall with 6 a.m. workouts. The goal this year was to elevate the fitness on the team and Cashman knew tough morning workouts was one way to do that.

Sinan Sudas, Tarek Ben Soltane, Danny Colon, Brock Sakey and Johan Beigart - the five returnees from the 2007 season - are looking to build on last season's performances.

Beigart comes back as the team's statistical leader and will be relied upon heavily. As a freshman, he posted a 17-6 mark in singles which included an 11-2 record at the No. 3 spot. Beigart earned the Conference USA Men's Athlete of the Week award on Feb. 6 and was later named to the All-C-USA Second Team. Cashman has high expectations for the sophomore to step up and compete near the top of the lineup.

"Johan is going to be a key," said Cashman. "He has a great work ethic and is an extremely good competitor. He does it quietly, his own way, which is good."

Sudas, a senior, and Sakey, a junior, have the most experience under Cashman. The head coach expects the two to be ideal role models for their younger teammates.

Although Sakey is the younger of the pair, Cashman is looking for the junior to take the reigns of this year's squad.

"I think he has been doing a really good job in leading the guys and setting good examples and working hard on the court. Brock is a good leader and people like being around him."

Both players buckled down and defeated top competition in the fall.

Sudas posted victories against players from Georgetown, Temple and Georgia, who finished first in the ITA rankings in the spring. Sakey also had wins against top-notch opponents, including victories over Arkansas' Dmitry Lebedev and Auburn's Hunter Mills. Arkansas' Lebedev was second on the team in wins last spring.

While Colon saw limited action last spring season, he is expected to contribute more for the Knights. The Jacksonville native won seven matches in the fall, which was good for second most on the team.

With four more spots to fill on the roster, recruiting became pivotal in the offseason. However, Cashman was not going to settle for just any four players; he wanted players who were going to help move the program in the direction he is trying to take the Knights - up.

Three of the four newcomers - Gabriel Mattos, Claudio Romano and Blaze Schwartz - had the chance to showcase their talents this fall.

Romano, a freshman from Venezuela, showed early in the fall season that he was going to be a tremendous addition at such a young age. Back in his home country, the International Tennis Federation ranked Romano 164th out of more than 2,000 athletes.

In the first fall tournament at Rollins College, Romano defeated Rollins' Pablo Seijo to win the singles B bracket. As he continued to compete throughout the fall, he caught Cashman's eye as someone who can compete at a high level early in his career.

"He has played in a lot of events in Venezuela and it shows," said Cashman. "He is not a normal freshman even though he is young. He has played a lot of tennis in his junior career. He is going to be somewhere in the middle of the lineup, but he is going to do awfully well for us."

Schwartz is the only other freshman on the team. A native of Pensacola, Schwartz tallied numerous accomplishments in high school - both on and off the court. Not only was he a Florida Class 2A high school doubles champion in 2007, Schwartz also earned the title of 2006 Pensacola News-Journal Boys Tennis Athlete of the Year. His most impressive accomplishment of all was completing high school with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.

"Blaze is very bright," said Cashman. "He is beyond his years in maturity. He sees the court very well for a young guy and is going to be a contributor in both singles and doubles."

The third newcomer who was able to get some experience under Cashman this fall was Mattos, a sophomore transfer from Arkansas. While in the Southeastern Conference, Mattos recorded an 8-14 mark in singles play. Although he only saw a limited amount of time on the court, Mattos was able to knock off Illinois' Abe Souza in the early part of the fall. Cashman feels his experience in the SEC will help him against competition in C-USA.

"He's going to help having already played at the SEC level," said Cashman. "He will add depth to the lineup, plus he has very good doubles skills and could be a starter." A late addition to the team, Nikolas Overkemping, comes to Orlando as a senior transfer from Valdosta State. Combined with his towering size at 6-foot-7 and three years of experience, the senior is expected to help in a big way.

At Valdosta State, he won a pair of regional championships in 2005 and 2006, and helped lead the program to its first Division II National Championship. In his final season at Valdosta State, Overkemping registered an 8-1 mark in singles and 10-4 record in doubles. Cashman feels his experience as a national champion can add to the team and help his teammates learn what it takes to get there.

With seven of the nine Knights already having played in the college ranks, Cashman feels this year's depth will propel the team further. However, the Knights will be put to the test early on in a tournament at South Florida featuring top-ranked competition in Auburn and Virginia Tech. UCF also faces three other schools that finished in the top 75 last spring. The Knights will conclude the season with its third trip to the C-USA Championships. The event will be held in Dallas, Texas.

"We are at a new level so we have to raise our expectations and I think we have identified the right players," said Cashman. "People think can we can win the C-USA title this year. I think anything is possible. At the end of the day, if we continue to compete and get better by the end of the spring season, I think that tournament can be wide open."