Written by Ace Espenshied
The Blazers men’s and women’s tennis teams will take on two of their toughest opponents this season Friday and Saturday.
On the men’s side, Lynn University is ranked number three in the country while Barry University is right behind at number four. Both teams are undefeated this season as the Fighting Knights sit at 8-0 and the Buccaneers at 6-0.
“We have to work on some things we’ve been working on all semester and make sure we can be confident going into the weekend,” John Hansen, VSU tennis coach, said.
VSU has had more history with these two schools in men’s tennis than with any other school in the country.
In 2006 VSU won its first tennis championship with a victory over Lynn, but it didn’t take long for the Fighting Knights to get their revenge defeating the Blazers for the national championship a year later in 2007.
The bad blood gets even worse with Barry as they defeated VSU in the 2010 National Championship. VSU returned the favor defeating the Buccaneers in the 2011 championship, and the Buccaneers once again added to the rivalry beating the Blazers in the first round of the South Regional last season.
“We’ve played both of them a thousand times,” Hansen said. “We’ve got a lot of new people this year. It’s probably not going to mean as much to them as it will to me. It’s going to mean a lot to Konstantin (Kutschenko) especially.”
Kutschenko, one of two upperclassmen on the Blazer squad, is the lone senior. He was playing in the number five singles spot in 2011 when VSU defeated Barry to win it all, but come Saturday he will be playing in the one spot looking to make a statement against a strong rival.
On the other side of the courts, the Lady Blazers will be taking on the same two schools in a similar scenario. The Lynn women’s tennis team sits at 6-1 and are number four in the country while the Barry women’s team is 6-0 and ranked number five.
The women don’t have the history of playing each other in national championships like the men do, but that doesn’t mean it makes the matches for them any less important.
The Lady Blazers rank at number nine in the region after playing two hard-fought matches against two top teams in the country losing 4-5 to both West Florida and Georgia College.
“I think (playing in close matches) gives them confidence,” Hansen said. “The girls know they can hang with some pretty good teams.”
This weekend the Lady Blazers will look to get over that hump and not just hang with a good team but actually come away with a victory.
“I need to get out of the way and let them play,” Hansen said. “I probably coach them too much and make them nervous. They’ve put the pressure on themselves, and it’s encouraging. I’m excited to see what they can do.”