SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University men's tennis team will kick off dual match action in the 2015 season this weekend as it hosts Juniata College and Bridgewater (Va.) College.
The Sea Gulls went 13-5 last season and advanced to the Capital Athletic Conference championship match, but will look to improve upon that standing with the majority of the lineup back for 2015.
Last season, the Sea Gulls' top doubles pair, Daniel Albers and Eric Spangler, went undefeated throughout the regular season and Capital Athletic Conference tournament before falling to Timmy Berg and Pierre Planche from Bates College in the opening round of the NCAA doubles championships.
The duo, currently the No. 9-ranked doubles pair in the Atlantic South Region, is looking to build off last year's run and take their successes as Salisbury's top singles and doubles competitors to the next level.
Albers, who is currently ranked No. 19 in singles in the Atlantic South Region, recorded an 11-5 record at the top singles spot, while Spangler was 12-2 in singles play.
"Going to nationals, seeing the best 16 doubles teams in the country up close, gives you an idea of what it takes, what you need to work and improve on to take that next step. It's been a source of motivation ever since we left California in May to return to the NCAA tournament", Head Coach Randy Halfpap said. "You see how good those players are. Both of those guys made it for doubles, and they want to return, but then they're thinking in regards to singles. You see the singles and doubles tournament, you're looking around and finding out the level you have to play to in order to play with those guys. It serves as great motivation."
One of the key improvements that Halfpap wanted to see, and has, from Albers is in his service game, where the senior will hopefully take further advantage of his natural edge in being a lefty. Spangler has focused on improving his quickness at the net in both singles and doubles play.
Senior Demetri Vrahnos, who has spent the past two years putting up impressive results but battling injuries, hits the courts for his final season. This year he is injury free and comes into the year ranked No. 21 in singles in the Atlantic South Region. Vrahnos posted an 8-4 record last season, playing primarily at No. 3 singles.
"He stayed in great shape, he's just had some nagging injuries that he has had to battle through in previous years" Halfpap said. "He has definitely embraced being a captain and a leader on this team. He and Albers understand that there's only four months left, not just of college, but tennis too. They know that this is it and there's a new sense of urgency."
Vrahnos played in 14 doubles matches last season, and could be paired with his doubles partner from two seasons ago, senior Adam Goldberger, who returns to the squad after a year away from the program.
Shanon Gunther broke into the starting lineup last year, playing in every match, with an 11-6 record in singles and 10-8 in doubles.
"He's an example of what's really fun about coaching and watching guys grow, not only as a tennis player, but they become more mature and more responsible," Halfpap said of the junior.
Halfpap will look to returning sophomore Grant Hudson and a handful of newcomers to potentially fill out the starting lineup. Freshman Sean Ngo leads a trio of talented freshmen, who will push for playing time early. Ngo is expected to fit into the doubles lineup early on, if not finding a spot in singles, as well.
"He's played a lot of doubles, and he certainly has the skillset to do so," Halfpap said. "Sean's definitely going to play a large role on our team."
The Sea Gulls will play a challenging schedule this season, with numerous teams ranked in the region as well as nationally, in addition to a tricky CAC schedule. Within the league, the Sea Gulls enter the year ranked No. 9 in the Atlantic South region, while the University of Mary Washington is ranked No. 4 in the region and No. 15 nationally and Christopher Newport University ranks No. 10 in the region.
Salisbury will take on Bridgewater (Va.) College, ranked No. 18 in the region, in its second dual match of the year, on Feb. 22, and will face the always talent-loaded teams on the squad's spring break trip to California in March.