Written by Eric Jackson
The sun is shining, flowers are blooming, birds are singing: this can only mean one thing right?
It’s time to serve up another season of VSU tennis.
Head Coach John Hansen, in his 39th season at the helm, believes it’s too early for him to be confident about the men and women’s squads in 2013 however at the same time he is not unconfident.
“I think we’re going to be a little better than last year mainly because some of our freshman from last year have more experience,” Hansen said of both teams. “Do we have a run at the national championship? I don’t know but I think we’re going to scare some people.”
The Blazers will certainly get a chance to do that facing six of the best teams in the nation early on in the season.
These teams include biggest non-conference rival Barry, Lynn, Armstrong Atlantic and this season’s Gulf South Conference favorite picked to win not only the conference but the national championship as well, West Florida.
UWF defeated the Blazers, 5-1, and the Lady Blazers, 5-2, to claim their second straight GSC Championship victory for both tennis teams last year.
The men and women squads will look to improve after both finished with an unsatisfying 10-10 record last season.
The men already start the year off at disadvantage due to Santiago Vidales and Niklas Herbring out indefinitely with injuries.
This hinders VSU immensely considering both players were in the top six last year; Vidales hasn’t been ruled out for the entire season.
Herbring was named 2012 GSC Freshman of the Year.
The remaining six players must step up in their absence and stay healthy.
Another injured player could be costly for the Blazers.
Lone senior Konstantin Kutschenko is expected to lead the team on and off the court.
“Without any problem, he has come in and just taking over,” Hansen said. “He realizes that everyone is looking up to him. I think he has an excellent chance in being one of the top players in the country this year. He’s already shown that and I think with his help we’re really putting something together.”
Kutschenko, the only remaining active member of the 2011 national championship team, last year beat Eudaldo Bonet (1-6, 6-3, 10-3) the No.3 player in the nation at the time.
With 2012 ITA Senior Player of the Year Christian Hansen graduated, the pressure on Kutschenko to carry the load is at an all-time high but the challenge doesn’t seem to faze him.
“I’m trying to be there for everyone,” Kutschenko, also a graduate assistant, said. “I kind of feel like I should be the leader on the team; I’m just excited we have a couple new players again. I’m ready to start the season to see where we stand. I look forward to it; this will be my last season.”
The women’s team head into the season with just six players total.
On the bright side, Hansen says some of the best teams in years past have been with only the starting six.
“It also puts that much pressure on us so we have to say fit, stay healthy,” Jessica Tuggle, third-year player said. “I think we have a really good team. As long we keep our heads focused on every single match and not worrying about the post-season now.”
Hansen believes if the injury bug can stay away his teams have the potential to be as talented as the 2011 championship squad that was honored in Wednesday’s parade.
“We get compared to them every day,” Hansen laughingly said. “We’ll find out.”
The mens begin their season Friday 3 p.m. at home against USC-Aiken and the women’s team first match is Wednesday against Georgia College.