Ducks look to take next step, become one of NCAA’s elite programs in upcoming season
The Oregon men’s tennis program has long been the “hunter,” seeking the consistency and big-time wins to earn respect across the nation as one of the top teams.
Last season, the Ducks posted a 19-7 dual record, made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and were consistently ranked in the top-25 in what was easily one of the best seasons in the history of the program.
With seven players from the 2016-17 squad returning for the upcoming season, don’t expect Oregon to sneak up on anyone this season. The target on the Ducks’ back will be more than visible. Programs in the Pac-12 and across the nation will be pulling bows out of their quivers, and taking their best shots from all directions at head coach Nils Schyllander and his team.
With success comes respect. No, the Ducks’ are no longer the “hunter.” They are now the “hunted,” and they’re embracing that notion.
“I think we have a bunch of guys motivated,” senior Simon Stevens said. “We want to reach a better ranking than last season, and go farther in the NCAA tournament.”
Stevens is one of three seniors — alongside Akihiro Tanaka and Cormac Clissold — that are entering the upcoming season. Stevens and Tanaka bring the production in singles, finishing last season in the No. 2 and No. 3 spots on the team, respectively. Not only is there experience on their side, there’s room to grow, too.
“I have more room to focus on myself,” Tanaka said. “We’re going to have some good preparation for the [upcoming dual] season.”
Compared to last season, in which Jayson Amos was the only senior on the team, the Ducks now have an increased presence of leadership that can be relied on this season.
“It’s all about the team this year,” Clissold said. “We’re trying to break last year’s ranking and keep it going.”
Clissold is currently lined up to play in either the No. 4 to No. 5 spot in singles. But it’s in doubles where the Australian really makes his mark. Playing alongside Thomas Laurent, the pair combined for a 24-6 record in doubles last year.
“We have this immediate connection where we just relax and play well with each other,” Clissold said.
Laurent’s value to the program doesn’t stop at doubles alongside Clissold. The French native took a stranglehold on the Ducks’ No. 1 spot in singles in a breakout sophomore campaign, winning 30 matches and earning all-Pac-12 honors.
It’ll take a team effort for the Ducks upcoming season to be a successful one. It all starts at the top with Laurent. If the junior can not only compete, but win consistently against other program’s top players, it can be the difference from the Ducks ascending from a good program to one of the nation’s elite.
With tournaments in the fall, and dual matches stretching across the winter and the spring, it’s a long season. The Ducks, just like any other program, will have to bring it over the long haul to meet the high expectations they have set internally.
“It’s all about practicing hard,” Stevens said. “The strength of this team is the atmosphere.”
The Ducks will need a strong and healthy atmosphere throughout the year to achieve their goals. Now seems to be as good a time as any for the program to take that next step.
Follow Cole Kundich on Twitter @ckundich
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