NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A year after returning to the conference tournament, Lipscomb’s men’s tennis team has higher aspirations for this season.
The Bisons return virtually every player from last season’s squad and head coach Mario Hernandez expects his team to continue to grow.
“I think our guys have in mind in terms of what they want to do in conference,” Mario Hernandez said. “The conference title is always going to be the goal.”
Assistant coach Geoff Hernandez had similar thoughts as to what this team is capable of.
"For us this season comes down to believing,” Geoff said. “The personnel and talent are there. It's about meeting new standards and I believe this group can do it."
Returning seven total players from last season, Hernandez didn’t have to do much to get his team ready to start the spring season.
“It’s been great because we haven’t had to do any indoctrination for these guys,” Mario said. “They know what is expected, and they’ve done a really good job of helping the incoming freshmen adjust and understand what they need to do as part of this program.
“One of things that popped out first in our first practice is that everyone looked sharp, which, to be honest, was the first time where top to bottom where I felt like everyone came in focused.”
Mario Hernandez returns his top four seeds from last year’s team, including senior Rob Mitchell at the top spot.
A two-time first team ASUN All-Conference selection, Mitchell provides consistency to the team as he enters his fourth season as the Bisons top-seeded player.
“(Rob) has been great,” Hernandez said. “He’s taken on the captain’s role. But also, he’s probably our fiercest competitor in terms of practice and in matches. When your number one guy is going full throttle, you don’t really have a reason or excuse not to compete if you’re not the number one guy.”
Lipscomb will need that experience as they face another tough schedule this season that includes matches against three SEC opponents and puts them on the road for 13 of their 19 matches.
“We felt we did pretty well last year, but what we want to do is take what we have in a similar schedule and hope to do better with that schedule,” Mario said. “We felt that we struck a good balance last year and we just want to improve upon a similar schedule as last year.”
The Bisons have been tested early already this season with a 4-0 loss to Vanderbilt and a 4-3 loss to Tennessee Tech on the opening weekend. They will face another test this weekend as the serve as UAB’s opening opponent.
They face a Blazer team that went 16-9 last season and that Lipscomb lost 4-1 to a year ago.
“UAB is a good team that we are familiar with,” Mario said. “Each time we play them it's a good battle.”
The match will be a rare early-season outdoor match for the Bison in Birmingham. Hernandez and his team have taken advantage of cooler weather in Middle Tennessee the past few days to prepare for the conditions. The match begins at 1 p.m.
“We have been taking advantage of the warm winter weather in Nashville to practice outside,” Mario said. “We are usually indoors January-February so this has worked out well.”