July 7, 2014
By Steve Lewis
STORRS, Conn. - Following an 8-12 campaign in the 2013-14 season, the University of Connecticut men's tennis program is looking to take full advantage of the summer months and improve upon last year's performance under second-year head coach Michael Louis.
To the exception of graduating senior Ryan Carr, the tennis team is returning all other players in 2014-15, which includes a strong and experienced group of four seniors to lead the way.
Jacob Spreyer (Denver, Colo.), Wayne Harrell (East Windsor, Conn), and Joshua Palmer (Dalton, Pa.), three of the rising seniors, will all be expected to provide the team with leadership, motivation, and good match preparation methods.
Though all three players are spending the summer months doing different things, they are all trying to improve their game one way or another.
"This summer I have been doing a lot of on-court training. I have been focusing a lot of footwork drills trying to make my first step quicker. I am doing many cone exercises focusing on staying balanced when I move," said Harrell, who posted a 15-12 overall record last season.
Harrell will play in tennis tournaments later this month to see how his game has improved, all in an effort to make his senior season the best one in his collegiate career.
Spreyer also stays very engaged in the game, getting professional help to improve his tennis skills and conditioning habits so he can start the fall in midseason form.
"The summer is when I look to make big strides in my game. I work with my private coach, Damon Gilette, four to five days a week on technique and make the necessary changes to my game so I can remain competitive at the highest level," said Spreyer.
The UConn senior, who competes in men's open tournaments and ITA college tournaments, trains five to six days each week with professional trainer Eric Bach. Coming off major arm surgery, Spreyer will have to properly condition to strengthen his arm for the fall.
As for Palmer, he is currently completing a ten-week summer undergraduate research program at the Medical College of South Carolina and studying for his medical school entrance exam. On top of all this, he is playing tennis locally, competing against other college players and residents.
"I have been working on strength, flexibility, and conditioning, so that by the fall my body will be prepared for competition and less likely to break down during the season," said Palmer, who had a 6-4 singles record and a 13-13 doubles record last season.
In order for the team to improve its collective performance this season, a mix of assertiveness, unity, and competitiveness will be needed, according to the UConn seniors.
"In the upcoming season the team needs to be more assertive. The biggest problem we had last season was that everyone was too relaxed and laid back in both practice and in matches," said Harrell.
Spreyer added, "We need to make sure that everyone on the team is working towards a common goal. Last year was a transition year. We spent a lot of time adapting to Coach Louis' coaching style and he spent time getting to know us as players. This year, we want to go into the season willing to work hard and push one another right from the start."
To accomplish the team goals for the upcoming season, the seniors will have to lead by example for younger players who are not accustomed to college tennis matches nor the pressure associated with them.
"I hope we can give the underclassmen valuable advice about match preparation and strategy," said Palmer. "I also hope to aid the freshman in their transition from high school to college life, academically and socially."
"Through experience, I have learned that the worst thing you can do as a leader is to lecture and be negative towards younger players. They need confidence and someone who understands their concerns and troubles. I have made many mistakes when I was a freshmen and I believe as a leader, it's my obligation to make sure they avoid the same mistakes that I made in the past," added Harrell.
Louis expects all players to return at the start of the school year in good physical condition, having spent time on areas of their game that need improvement so as not to heavily rely on the brief practice time they have before competition begins.
"I want my players to be self-motivated and show more effort in the summer," said Louis, who completed his first season as the UConn men's tennis coach. "They need to have a passion for the game and feel the need to get better."
Louis added that the first tennis tournament his team will compete in will be held shortly after returning to campus. Jumping into competitive contests quickly will show the work each player did in the summer.
"We need to figure out how we want to start off our season. Our level of expectations will be higher this year, and so we need all of our guys to make a strong commitment," said Louis.