Men’s tennis kicked off its spring season with a tightly-contested loss to BYU Saturday, featuring five of the six singles spots with sophomores.
The Colonials entered the 2019-20 season buoyed by a disproportionately large sophomore class that dominates 75 percent of the roster. Head coach Rob Castille said the young core will focus on improving in small increments in preparation for the Atlantic 10 Championship in April.
“We don’t really have a set conference play,” Castille said. “We create our own, so it’s spread out throughout the whole spring. We want to be sharp for those matches, but the ultimate goal is to be peaking going into the tournament in April.”
Castille added that he expects the squad to be “stronger and better” after its performance in the fall slate.
“Now that they have all that experience of playing in matches and playing in close situations, we’re going to be counting on that type of experience to help us be better in the spring,” Castille said.
Sophomore Ben Barnett said the sophomore class is especially connected because they are going through college and collegiate tennis as a group.
“Every college team wants chemistry,” Barnett said. “That’s one thing our coach is really big on, supporting each other. So having the similarities and going through college together really helps that, just being good mates.”
The spring slate began after a two-month-long break following the end of fall competition Nov. 3. Castille said he offers his athletes lifting and conditioning trainings over the break but relies on the team to stay in shape for when they return. Under NCAA rules, training is not mandatory over break.
“Classes started on the 13th, and that was our first day of practice, and the first match is on Saturday,” Castille said. “So we just said, ‘Be smart with what you do over break, nothing is mandatory but we have our first match on Saturday.’ And it’s against a good team, so it would be wise to come in and be ready to go and hit the ground running.”
Despite optional training over break, sophomore Ryan Navarro and Barnett said they worked out with friends from home to stay in shape.
“I took a couple days off around Christmas time, but then, me personally, I was training almost every day and in the weight room as well,” Navarro said. “None of that is mandatory, but we really wanted to improve. So I was training with guys back home who were also collegiate players.”
He added that this season, he wants to focus on keeping his energy and “level of fight” high rather than focusing on the results of matches.
Last season, GW posted a 7-14 overall record and a 5-3 conference record. GW will return eight of the nine players from last season when the squad finished with a No. 5 seeding in the Atlantic 10 tournament and advanced to the quarterfinals.
Sophomore Michael Barsky, who notched a 3-2 singles record during the spring season last year, did not compete against BYU in the team’s season opener. An athletic department spokesperson confirmed Barsky is no longer with the team Monday.
The Colonials lost 4-3 to BYU in the first matchup between the two teams in more than five years. Senior Jakub Behun and sophomores Zicheng Zeng and Ethan Jacobs all nabbed singles wins.
In doubles play, GW won only one of three matches. The duo of Jacobs and Navarro defeated BYU 6–3 in the doubles matchup. Last season, Navarro boasted the most doubles wins on the roster with 16 wins.
Before the match Saturday, Castille said playing tough nonconference competition, like BYU, exposes his team to the level of play he hopes the program eventually establishes.
“They’re typically a nationally ranked program and so they’re at a level that we’re trying to eventually get to,” Castille said. “It’s going to be a great barometer to where we are now.”
The Colonials are back in action Friday to take on Howard at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center. First serve is set for 12:45 p.m.