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Blazers looking ahead to tough opponents

The Valdosta State tennis teams left for Montgomery, Ala. Wednesday for a full weekend of action at the Auburn-Montgomery Invitational where they will play a match per day running through Sunday.
Neither squad knows who they are playing yet however as the tournament will determine who they meet in the first round. The Auburn-Montgomery Invitational is the first time this season where the Blazers will be put to a major endurance test by playing so many consecutive matches in a short span.
“It’s a lot but we’ve been trying to get in shape all year,” John Hansen, head coach of both teams, said, “We like it because the national championship is like that and we have to prepare for that down the road.”
Junior Daniel Dueren wants to make sure that everyone is trying as hard as they can, even if the team does come up short.
“Montgomery is really good and my expectation is that everyone gives their best,” Dueren said. “Even if we lose, as long as we fight hard it can build confidence.”
The men and women’s teams have been equally off to a great start this season, with both in the top 10 rankings in the NCAA Division II poll. The men stand strong at No. 3 with an 11-1 record while the women are close behind at No. 6 and an 8-2 record.
For the men, the lone loss to Barry University on Feb. 15 has been called the defining moment of the season because of how close the match was. The team was rolling off the momentum of a 6-3 victory to No. 4 Lynn University the day before and came in thinking they were well prepared.
“We thought we should have won it because they were #2 in the nation and we had just beat Lynn,” Hansen said. “Whenever you’re that close, you think you should’ve won.”
The men have been on a roll since the loss to Barry however, winning eight consecutive matches in dominating fashion.
Last weekend’s event in Pensacola, Fla. had the Blazers essentially playing one and a half double-headers on back-to-back days after rain and darkness delays spoiled Thursday and Friday respectively.
Although it may have frustrated some, Dueren enjoyed the delay breaks.
“The rain delay gave us one free day to relax,” Dueren said. “One day of tennis off isn’t always bad.”
Apparently the delays worked out in VSU’s favor because both the men and women’s teams scored victories against West Florida, a Gulf South Conference rival.
Looking ahead past the Auburn-Montgomery Invitational this weekend both tennis squads play crucial matches April 10 against Armstrong-Atlantic. Armstrong has been the number one team in Division II for men and women’s tennis three years running.
Along with winning the Gulf South Conference, one of Hansen’s major goals for the remainder of the year is to pull off the victory against powerhouse Armstrong.
“Obviously we’d like to win the Conference and do well at nationals,” Hansen said. “But we really want to beat No. 1 Armstrong, too.”
The men’s team plays only five of its 19 events in Valdosta, whereas last year they played eleven. Dueren hopes that the VSU students and fans come out to root on the Blazers in a rare home event.
“We really want to have a lot of spectators come out and support us, it would be nice,” Dueren said. “[Armstrong] will definitely be the favorite but if we prepare well and have a good supporting crowd, we will have a chance.”

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