SPARTANBURG, S.C. _ Heading into the season the Lipscomb men’s tennis team held the same goal that most teams have: get to the conference tournament.
The Bisons achieved that goal for the first time since 2013 with wins over NJIT and Kennesaw State to finish the season. However, Lipscomb head coach Mario Hernandez is quick to remind his players that the work isn’t done yet and says he just wants his team to focus on one week.
“We want to approach it as one week because it really is one week,” Hernandez said. “If we are to go on and win the conference tournament and play in the NCAAs then we’ll go from there.”
Lipscomb (8-12, 2-4) enters the tournament as the fifth seed where they meet the tournament hosts in fourth-seeded USC-Upstate. Play is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Friday morning with the winner facing top-seeded FGCU.
The Spartans (7-13, 3-3) have defeated Lipscomb in their last five meetings, including a 6-1 win in Nashville two weeks ago.
Hernandez feels his team has improved in the two weeks since their match in Nashville.
“The good thing is you know who you’re playing against,” Hernandez said. “I really honestly feel like we’re a different team than who we were when we last played them.
“I feel like we’re a better team. I think our guys will be ready to take on this challenge.”
The Bisons have the advantage of taking a two-match conference win streak into the match.
“I’d much rather be in that position as a five seed than be a higher seed that’s lost two matches,” Hernandez said. “In any sport you want to be the team coming in with some momentum. If you get yourself on a hot streak at the right time good things can happen.”
Senior John Tougher is the only Bison to be a member of the 2013 team that made it to the tournament, but Hernandez doesn’t think nerves will be a factor for the remainder of the team.
“You’re always nervous for any sporting competition, that means you care,” Hernandez said. “But it’s a tennis match and we pride ourselves in how we prepare and practice. If anybody has any extra nerves they just need to put that extra energy into their practice and that’ll take of the problems in terms of match-day nerves.
“You really only have four possible opportunities for these conference tournament week. So take advantage of it and enjoy it. I think the guys will do that.”