The Stetson men's tennis team is set to begin the 2013 spring season, its 20th under Director of Tennis Pierre Pilote. Last year, the Hatters' season ended with a trip to the Atlantic Sun Conference semifinals, falling to eventual league runner-up North Florida.
The Hatters' roster has a very different look this season. After losing four seniors from last year, including the top two singles players Maxsim Levanovich and Njal Stene, the squad now features one senior, one junior, two sophomores, and four freshmen.
"The squad this year offers a great blend of experience from our returners and enthusiasm from the incoming players," Pilote said while preparing for the start of the season. "This past fall semester really helped each and every one to define their role within the team. It's definitely a fun group to work with."
The most experienced Hatter is the lone senior, Didrik Berg (Oslo, Norway). Berg spent most of last season as the #3 singles player, behind Levanovich and Stene.
The only junior on the team is Hans Adrian Riseng (Oslo, Norway). Riseng played primarily from the #4 singles slot a year ago, and was paired with Stene as the top doubles team, which earned five straight victories to end the season in 2012.
Two sophomores return from last season's squad with valuable experience; Chester Espie (Auckland, New Zealand) and Nathan Debut (Toulon, France). Debut and Espie anchored the bottom of the lineup for the Hatters, playing primarily from the #5 and #6 singles spots.
The Hatters are sure to see plenty of playing time from a talented group of freshmen. Simon Julin (Stockholm, Sweden) leads this group after a strong fall season that earned him a ranking of 14 by the ITA in the highly regarded Southeast Region. The other freshmen for the Hatters are Laurynas Antropikas (Palanga, Lithuania), Egor Panyushkin (Moscow, Russia), and Cahit Kapukiran (Izmir, Turkey).
When asked about this group of newcomers, Assistant Coach Christophe Noblet said, "We are very pleased with this recruiting class. All of them are working extremely hard on and off the court, and should have a real positive impact on the team in the future."
The Stetson Men's Tennis team opens spring competition on Thursday, January 24 against #57 St. John's University at the Mandy Stoll Tennis Center in DeLand, Fla.
"It is a privilege to open the season against a nationally ranked team like St. John's University," Pilote said. "It is a very exciting challenge for this group, and we are looking forward to it."
After St. John's, Stetson will host three matches in February before heading west. The Hatters will play two games against teams from California; UC Riverside on March 6 and Loyola Marymount on March 7.
"This will definitely be an exciting trip, as many of our players have never been to California," Noblet said. "It should certainly create some unforgettable memories."
Following the road trip, the Hatters return home for six straight matches. Stetson begins with Northern Illinois and Cleveland State on March 11 and 12, respectively. On March 14, the Hatters host Atlantic Sun Conference newcomer Northern Kentucky and follow that with a match on March 16 against Lipscomb.
Two more matches against #45 Drake and Wisconsin-Green Bay end the non-conference slate for Stetson.
"Our non-conference schedule is once again very challenging, but our fans will be happy to see that all of those matches except two will be held at the Mandy Stoll Tennis Center," Pilote said.
On March 22 and 23, the Hatters travel to Georgia to take on Kennesaw State and Mercer. Stetson will then return to the Mandy Stoll Tennis Center for two matches to wrap up competition in March. March 28 pits the Hatters against #71 ETSU, the defending conference champions, and March 30 will bring USC Upstate to DeLand.
The final two conference games for the Hatters are against teams in the Sunshine state, playing at #64 North Florida on April 6 and hosting Florida Gulf Coast on April 13.
"The level of competition within the conference keeps improving each year," Pilote said about the A-Sun. "It would not be surprising to see four or five nationally ranked teams from the league being ranked at one point this season."
The Atlantic Sun Conference Championship will take place in Johnson City, Tenn. April 19-21.