The 2020 LMU men’s tennis season is underway, and the players and coaches are hoping to use a strong ending to the 2019 slate as momentum going forward.
“Last season, we peaked at the very end,” said junior and team co-captain Diego Nava. “I think if we can put more effort on the practice court, we can peak a little bit earlier and maintain that level throughout the season.”
In 2019, the Lions struggled to open the year, winning just two of their first 11 matches. They were better in conference play, where they posted a 5-4 record, but ultimately finished 8-15 on the season. In an attempt to get the team off to a better start, seventh-year head coach Tom Lloyd scheduled some practices prior to the beginning of school, rather than having practices and classes start simultaneously.
“That means we got to do a full week of practice with no classes,” Lloyd said. “We got to just focus on tennis and our strength and conditioning for an entire week.”
Sophomore Thien Nguyen noted that the conditioning work has already paid dividends.
“The things that we were working on in the fall and the beginning of the year [have] helped me a lot,” he said. “Last season, I kind of struggled when [matches] went three sets.”
The practice calendar is not the only thing that has changed. The roster has 13 players, a high number for a college team and an increase from 10 last year. Of those 13, five are new to the Bluff. Two of them, freshman John Bryan Otico and junior transfer Alex Rushin, will not play competitively this season per Lloyd, but all five can be important to the team whether on or off the court.
“[They’re] all big additions and they all serve their own part,” Lloyd said.
Out of the new players, sophomore Keenan Mayo, a transfer from the University of Illinois, has made the biggest on-court impact thus far. As he adjusts to playing at a new school, Mayo has been placed in the top singles slot and impressed Lloyd with his performance.
Mayo and the rest of the new players are helping to make up for the loss of two key players to graduation. Last season, Lukas Moenter reached the highest national ranking ever for a Lions singles player, while Nick Borchenko and his doubles partner Nava earned the all-time best ranking for an LMU doubles team. Although both were integral to Lions teams of the past, Lloyd believes he has a system that will fill the void that their absence creates.
“The culture is what keeps the guys together and it keeps the team moving forward,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to have [other players] move into those roles at the top of the lineup.”
Nava has found himself adjusting without his main doubles partner from last year. In season-opening matches against San Francisco and Santa Clara on Jan. 18 and 19 respectively, he was paired with Nguyen and the two served as the top doubles team on both occasions. Nava mentioned that Nguyen plays a less aggressive style than Borchenko and praised Nguyen’s intensity.
“Thien brings an energy that really helps me just compete and stay in the match,” Nava said. “It’s really helpful to have that energy.”
Nguyen added that he is looking forward to a partnership with Nava.
"It will take a lot of time [to build] chemistry on and off the court,” Nguyen said. “But the way we are [playing] now and the way the team is functioning, I think we’re in a good [place].”
Nguyen and Nava split their two doubles contests, but the overall result was positive for the team as a whole, as the Lions won both matches. Lloyd hopes that the outcomes will remind the team about the importance of competing in every match.
“You can always compete and you can always fight,” he said. “Each guy better be fighting and pulling for the guys next to him until the last ball is struck.”
The Lions next play on Saturday, Feb. 1, when they host UC Santa Barbara.