Men’s tennis is on pace to outperform last season’s 30-win doubles showing.
Sitting at 28 combined doubles victories, the Colonials have one more tournament from Nov. 1 to 3 to top last fall’s performance. Head coach Rob Castille and players said the team aims to be more aggressive at the net and on serve returns, adding that the more aggressive pair often comes out on top.
“That’s kind of the style that we’ve adopted and want to play, being very active with the nets, being aggressive and getting tight,” Castille said. “We talked about that a lot, really kind of closing in and just being a big presence up at the net, which can be intimidating at times.”
Last year, the team’s nine-person roster was comprised of six freshmen, contributing to a lack of experience entering Atlantic 10 play in the spring. The team has the same nine members this year, with sophomore Ethan Jacobs as the Colonials’ only addition since senior Amlan Sahoo graduated last season.
Castille said he looks to find players whose strengths complement one another to create more balanced duos in doubles play. He added that fall tournaments provide players with “trial by error” opportunities to determine which doubles pairings work well together.
“You might have some pairing that you might think is going to be great on paper based on playing styles and their strengths and weaknesses,” Castille said. “But personality-wise, they might just not be a great fit on the court, and that happens in tennis, so you just have to play around with it.”
Last season, sophomores Ben Barnett and Zicheng Zeng competed in 23 doubles matches together, and sophomores Hanyu Liu and Ryan Navarro ranked second with 21 matches as a duo. Over the course of the fall and spring seasons, the Colonials used 12 different doubles combinations.
The squad nabbed 30 doubles victories in its fall slate. In the spring, the team finished 56–54 in doubles play, narrowly climbing over a .500 win percentage. Liu and Navarro topped the team with a 16–5 record.
Castille said he wants to see both players at the net after returning the serve – rather than keeping one player at the net and one player in the back court – to assert their dominance throughout the match.
“We’re going to be really aggressive and have both people up at that net and putting that pressure on them,” Castille said. “If that’s not working, [we’ll] adjust from there.”
Through the Colonials’ first three tournaments this fall, the team has won 28 of its 40 total doubles matches, with sophomore duo Ethan Jacobs and Ryan Navarro accounting for more than one-third of those victories.
Jacobs said the duo tries to maintain a positive attitude between each point and after every point, deciding where to serve, where to return a serve and how the player at the net will move after a serve. He said the doubles pairings have increased the duo’s aggressiveness at the net with volley reaction and poaching drills during practice.
“Doubles is about aggressiveness,” Jacobs said. “We’ve been working on poaching at the net and just staying aggressive and being fearless and confident because that’s how you’re going to win more matches.”
Navarro said the team also scrimmages the other pairings in practice to work on specific scenarios and iron out the movement between the two players in different serve and return sequences.
Jacobs and Navarro have won nine of their 10 matches. Virginia, which is ranked fifth in the nation, handed the pair an 8–3 loss. Navarro said playing tougher competition is “encouraging” because it allows the team to identify areas of improvement and become more competitive.
“The top schools are very strong, but they’re also not impossible to beat,” Navarro said. “They play the big points or the most important points well. So if we can stay strong on very big points, we’re in most of these matches.”
Navarro added that he and Jacobs hope to keep their foot on the gas heading into their final fall competition.
“The goal is to continue that momentum forward and to keep improving and then keep playing the right way, and that will get us the wins we want,” Navarro said.
The Colonials are back in action Friday to kickoff the UNCW Team Invite.