Alabama men's tennis opens up SEC play with Vanderbilt and KentuckyBy Zach Fidel | 02/28/2018 9:39pm
Alabama men's tennis is now 12-0 to start the season.
Five percent better each match.
That’s the motto for University of Alabama men’s tennis team. So far, it seems like the Crimson Tide have not only performed to the motto but have exceeded it.
Alabama is off to its best start in program history with a record of 14-1. They have wins against Penn State, Virginia Tech and Arizona. Last weekend in the championship of the Blue Gray National Classic tournament, the Crimson Tide lost a close match to No. 20 Arizona State, 4-3.
Friday night, the real fun begins as SEC play opens up. Alabama will host Vanderbilt on Friday night, and will welcome in Kentucky on Sunday afternoon. Coach George Husack, now in his sixth year under the helm for Alabama, knows how much of a challenge each match in SEC play will be.
“No one is bad in the SEC, everyone is good,” Husack said. “We’re going to be challenged in every match, but I believe the guys have shown a level of consistency in these last 15 games which has prepared them for these upcoming games in the SEC.”
Husack is no stranger when it comes to leading a team that is off to a record breaking start.
While this is Alabama’s best start in program history, this isn’t Husack’s best start as a coach. He guided University of Southern California to a record of 25-0 in his last year there. They would eventually go on to win the championship with a record of 33-1. Husack is hopeful his current team can repeat the success his former team achieved during their record breaking season.
“When I was at USC, we learned a valuable lesson after losing that first match and I’m hoping our team right now learns from their first loss which happened over the weekend,” Husack said. “I’m not saying we’re going to win the national title, but this start we’ve had has been good for the guys in teaching them how to win.”
As a freshman last year, Edson Ortiz witnessed his team win a total off 11 matches. At the start of SEC play, they had only won 4 matches which is a drastic difference to their 14 wins this year.
Like any young player who has the mentality of winning every match, Ortiz became frustrated with himself throughout the course of the season. In the offseason, he vowed to improve his mental game in hopes of bettering himself and his team.
This year as a sophomore, Ortiz is undefeated in singles play and has been ranked as high as No. 23 in doubles play with partner Mazen Osama. Ortiz has been the energizer bunny for the Crimson Tide pumping up his teammates whenever he can. The team has even nicknamed him “El Torro” which means the bull in Spanish because of the intensity he brings on the court.
“This past offseason the whole team trusted in our work we put in on and off the court and we knew we were going to be better than last year,” Ortiz said. “This year I’ve really focused on my emotions and mental part of the game; I was really anxious on the court last year.”
Freshman Patrick Kaukovalta will get his first taste of SEC competition Friday against Vanderbilt. An injury kept him out of action in the beginning of the season, but he’s come on strong of late especially in singles play. Kaukovalta, a native of Finland was ranked the No. 2 tennis player in his country before moving to the U.S. to play for Alabama.
“I always wanted to come to America for college, and I picked Alabama because we have a great education program here along with a good tennis program,” Kaukovalta said. “One thing I miss from back home is the snow.”
There won’t be any snow anytime soon for Kaukovalta, but he does get the chance to play the game he loves at the collegiate level.