SEASON PREVIEW: Sea Gulls feature talent at the top and depth going into 2014 season
The Salisbury University tennis teams feature a mix of young talent, surrounded by a veteran presence. Both the men and women's programs return players who were honored for their play during their freshman seasons, and the men's team returns five All-Capital Athletic Conference selections and the women's team returns three All-CAC players.
The men's team brings back a lot of familiar faces, as no one graduated from last year's squad.
"It's one of the few years in my 15 seasons where not one person graduated (from last season)," Head Coach Randy Halfpap said. "There is familiarity, whether its practice or matches, that part is really good. To have that stability, it is nice."
Sophomore Eric Spangler, who was the 2013 Co-Rookie of the Year and an All-CAC selection, looks to build upon last year, after finishing the season with a 14-7 record in singles play and 17-5 in doubles matches.
It was the second-consecutive season that a Sea Gull was named the top first-year player in the conference, as Spangler's doubles partner Daniel Albers was tabbed for the same honor in 2012. Albers, a junior, built upon his successful first season in maroon and gold, and was a First Team All-CAC selection for doubles play. Albers finished the 2013 campaign with an 11-11 record in singles play.
"Knowing (Albers) can go out and beat anyone on any given day, it really helps us out in singles and doubles," Halfpap said. "His experience and the improvement he has made, it will help us compete in matches and it's helpful in practice to show other guys how far he has come."
Senior Shane Gunther was 10-10 in singles action and 13-8 in doubles play last season, and was a Second Team All-CAC doubles selection.
Junior Demetri Vrahnos finished the season 16-6 in singles play, earning a Second Team All-CAC selection for his play. He was also a second-team selection for his doubles play.
"Demetri is another player who brings a physical mentality to the game, by outworking other guys and is a good influence for the whole team," the coach said. "Our team has bought in; making sure they are better in mind and body."
Sophomore Natalie Savage leads the Sea Gulls on the women's side and was named the 2013 CAC Rookie of the Year for her play. The Port Murray, N.J., native was 10-1 when playing against the opposition's top-ranked player and finished the season 18-2 overall in singles play. She lost her first match of the season and then proceeded to reel off 18-straight wins before dropping her season finale. Savage also excelled in doubles play with a 19-2 record. She teamed with then-senior Jillian Poppe to go 10-1 and went 9-1 when partnered with junior Roxanne Alban. For her efforts, Savage was a Second Team All-CAC selection for both singles and doubles play.
"We have normally won matches in the 3-4-5 positions and doubles, but it's nice to have a favorite in the No. 1 spot and, with Roxanne, the top doubles too," Halfpap said about Savage. "She's the type of person who has the mental capacity to compete every day and go on a winning streak like she did last year. She's looking to get better every day; being open to making minor changes, taking a step back to take two forward, which will make her better in the long run."
Alban had a strong 2013 season, going 14-6 in singles play and 17-3 in doubles play. The Annapolis, Md., native was a Second Team All-CAC honoree for both singles and doubles play. Alban and fellow junior Katie Youlios will be playing higher in the lineup this season, something Halfpap thinks they are ready for.
"Roxanne hits the ball as well as anyone in the conference, and she and Katie both are moving up in the lineup and those matches are completely different," Halfpap said. "I hope they understand how difficult the matches are, playing longer matches and tougher opponents."
Youlios was also a Second Team All-CAC selection for both singles and doubles play. She was 16-4 in singles action and a combined 17-5 in doubles play, teaming with three different partners during the season.
"Katie is playing better than she ever has before," Halfpap said. "She had a great year last year. It's one of those things that got lost (with Savage's winning streak) last year and hopefully she can do the same this year."
Juniors Allison Lutz and Sam Babo, and freshman Claudia Lohn likely will round out the starting lineup for the Sea Gulls. Lutz (9-0) and Babo (3-0) look to build upon their undefeated 2013 campaigns in an expanded role.
The women's team opens its schedule against Bridgewater (Va.) College on Saturday, Feb. 22, with the men's team kicking off its campaign a week later, March 1, against Franklin & Marshall College; both matches are at home.
Both teams will travel to Southern California over spring break. The men's team is scheduled to play three matches on the trip, with the women's team playing four times.
Each team will open their conference schedule at York College of Pennsylvania on March 29, and their home conference schedule on April 5 against Frostburg State University.