Air Force Opens Spring Season at Utah State
Jan. 15, 2004
The Air Force men's tennis team opens its 2004 spring season on Friday, Jan. 16 at Utah State in Logan, Utah at 10 a.m. The Falcons will play two more matches during the weekend, at Idaho State on Saturday, Jan. 17 and at Weber State on Sunday, Jan. 18. Both matches are at 10 a.m.
Here is the team's 2004 season outlook:
Looking up and down the 2003-04 Air Force men's tennis roster, there are a lot of players that have not reached their junior season yet. With only one senior and two juniors in the top seven, head coach Rich Gugat will have to rely on a youth movement to record his second consecutive 20-victory campaign.
Coming off the best individual seasons in Air Force history, sophomore Shannon Buck returns as the team's No. 1 player. Buck, who became the first Falcon freshman ever to qualify for the NCAA Division I Singles Championships last season, finished the campaign with an outstanding 31-4 overall singles record and a 26-1 mark at No. 1 singles.
Buck was named Mountain West Conference Co-Player of the Year by league coaches and earned the Rookie of the Year honor for the Mountain Region of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. He cruised through the MWC schedule, winning all five regular season matches and three more at the conference tournament. Two of his wins were over Oliver Maiberger of San Diego State, a two-time MWC Player of the Year, and the two shared last year's award. Buck's season came to an end in the first round of the NCAA Championships, losing to Mark Van Elder of Oklahoma State, 7-5, 6-0.
Buck tied the school record for most wins at No. 1 singles in one season and posted the second-best winning percentage (.963) for one season by any position player in school history. Buck, ranked 35th in the 2004 preseason national rankings, defeated the ninth-ranked player, Jesse Witten of Kentucky, in the first round of the All-American Championships last fall.
Gugat will have to try and find a replacement for Eric Pittman, who graduated last spring. Pittman, who moved to the No. 2 singles spot as a senior after playing No. 1 the previous two seasons, posted a 20-12 overall singles record and an 18-8 mark in dual matches in '02-03. It was the third time in four years he has won 20 or more overall matches.
A trio of players will try to fill those shoes, with sophomore Trevor Johnson having the inside track for the No. 2 position. Johnson, who played only eight dual matches last season, had a strong fall season, posting a 9-5 record. One of his losses was in a third-set tiebreaker to the 37th ranked player in the country, Mark Dietrich of Tennessee.
Junior Tyler McClung returns after an impressive 20-13 overall singles record last season. He was 13-10 at the No. 3 position, where he is projected to play this year. McClung paired with Pittman for an outstanding season at the No. 1 doubles position. The duo finished the '03 campaign with a 24-5 overall record and a 21-4 mark at No. 1 doubles. They achieved a national ranking of #55 last season.
Senior Justin Mancinelli was 14-12 overall in singles last year despite battling injuries all season. He was 7-7 at the No. 4 position and enters the '03-04 campaign with the most career dual-match singles victories (39) of any current Falcon. Mancinelli paired with Buck for a 14-7 overall doubles record last season, and should play No. 2 doubles with Johnson this season.
Junior Chris Dong and sophomore Martin Black each produced a winning season toward the lower end of the lineup last year. Dong was 16-11 overall, including a 10-3 mark at the No. 6 position. Black, meanwhile, won 19 singles matches against only 10 losses and was 15-6 in dual matches. Dong and Black produced a formidable No. 3 doubles team last year, going 9-9 in dual matches.
Senior Patrick Jackson and junior Marcus McKindra round out the group of upperclassmen. Jackson played 11 total singles matches last year, winning six of them, and went 5-2 in dual matches, most at the No. 6 spot. McKindra, meanwhile, returns to the team after taking off the 2002-03 season.
Gugat has five solid freshmen joining the team this season, all having sights on breaking into the top six. Sky Jensen, out of Salt Lake City, Utah, qualified for the Utah state tournament all four years in high school. He won the state title his junior year and finished second as a senior and a freshman.
Robert Alexander, meanwhile, competed in two International Tennis Federation events as a junior player and was ranked No. 260 nationally in the Boys 18-and-under division. The Charlotte, N.C., product was a member of the USTA Southern Section Zonals team and a conference and regional tournament champion.
Justin Lau was two-time all-district selection at Cedar Park High School in Austin, Texas, while Keith Cronican helped Omaha Creighton Prep (Neb.) to two straight state championships by winning two individual state titles. Ryan White, from El Paso, Texas, was a district singles champion as a junior and a district finalist his senior season.
Another tough schedule greets the Falcons this season. The spring season starts with seven consecutive matches on the road, including a Jan. 31 match at in-state rival Denver. A match on Saturday, March 6, against Army opens a five-match stretch at home. It marks Air Force's first match against Army since 1993.
All five MWC matches are on the road this season, three in Albuquerque and two in Salt Lake City. The Mountain West Conference Championships will be held April 29-May 1 in San Diego, Calif.