Photo courtesy of UTSA Athletics
The 2014-15 UTSA men’s tennis team enjoyed its best season to date under Head Coach Jeff Kader. The former William & Mary standout coached the team to a strong campaign, which included winning the Conference USA (C-USA) tournament and competing in the NCAA Tournament.
The exceptional season followed what was a rather disappointing 2013-14 campaign.
“We were struggling to pick up wins,” Kader said bluntly. “This year we were picking up wins from a bunch of different spots. We had a couple guys transfer in that really helped us out, both singles and doubles. “
The poor form from the previous season carried over slightly, with the team experiencing a slow start that saw it drop four of its first six outings.
“For the first little bit of the season some guys were playing for themselves,” Kader explained. “We had a ‘come-to-Jesus’ talk. We said if we want anything to happen, we have to be the best team out there.”
Despite the lackluster start, the team rallied en route to the conference tournament, winning 12 of its final 16 matches. The momentum carried through the tournament, as they won their three games 4-3, 4-2 and 4-2, taking the championship in impressive fashion. The win earned them a bid to play LSU in the NCAA National Tournament.
“Everyone was fighting together,” said Kader, speaking on the team’s impressive C-USA tournament play. “There were 15 of us out there, including coaches, and we were all on the same page. Guys were out there saying, ‘we are better,’ we are a better team.”
The team fell to LSU in round one 0-4, but the loss did not negate the success the team accomplished together. The game was the last contest for all of the senior Roadrunners, with the exception of team standout, Tomas Stillman.
Stillman — a transfer from Toledo University — played well enough individually to qualify for the NCAA National Singles Tournament. Despite losing in the round of 64 to Soren Hess-Olesen of Texas, Stillman has not let the loss stop his goal to go professional.
“He has won a few matches; he has a professional ranking,” said Kader. “There’s quite a few tournaments this summer for him to improve his ranking.”
The other seniors on UTSA’s roster — Yannick Junger and Joel Rubio — are both graduating. Junger has plans on becoming an intern and Rubio plans on becoming a graduate assistant.
Kader is confident that between current players and incoming recruits, the team will have enough to repeat and do even more next year.
“The hardest part is maintaining and improving,” said Kader. “It’s hard; we lost three out of the top six, but we have guys who got experience this year and are ready to take over. We see what we can do; it’s good. We just need the right players coming in to fill holes.”
Kader is hoping this year’s experience will lead the returning players to be hungry for more. “Doing it again next year and coming back not satisfied,” said Kader. “Hopefully our guys don’t come back saying ‘Oh, that was fun.’ Hopefully they say, ‘Let’s do better. Let’s win that opening round next year.’”
Coach Kader will lead the team back into action starting with matches in the fall. He hopes to build on prior success and take the program to new heights.