The Oglethorpe men's tennis team will be challenged coming into the 2017 season. They are coming off their best year since entering NCAA Division III play in 1991. They won a share of their first SAA title and finished No. 11 in the Atlantic South. They also peeked into the national rankings at No. 40 and No. 38 at points during the season. C.J. Antonio was Oglethorpe's first Division III tennis All-American and earned SAA Player of the Year accolades.
"All of that was great," said Oglethorpe head coach Peter Howell, "but it was all last year. We've got a brand-new challenge this season!";
This year's team is very young, featuring all sophomores and first-year players. The Stormy Petrels have lost five of their top seven from last year's squad. Sophomores Richard Johnson and Michael Santaloci look to lead this team. Johnson had a stellar year at doubles last year. He has terrific hands, is very fast, and is playing with renewed confidence. Santaloci has expanded his game, developing an all-court, aggressive baseline play with the ability to close at the net. Freshmen Zoe Raymond and Dustin Bowie will challenge for top playing positions. Raymond is very consistent, and starting to press his opponents. He is solid off the ground, and has good hands. Likewise, Bowie has a strong forehand that he attacks with, to go with a severe serve. He looks to be a big factor over the coming year. These four players are basically interchangeable in the lineup and give the Petrels good depth. Junior Matthew Magee has been slowed by injury, but fits in nicely and will give the team more depth when his shoulder improves. He has a solid game and makes his opponent beat him, keeping unforced errors to a minimum. The Petrels are going to have to depend on depth to win this year.
Sophomore Michael Allen has a tremendous serve and strong volleys. He could play anywhere in the lineup depending on his confidence. He will feature strongly in the doubles, probably paired with Johnson. Lefty sophomore Jacob Bertram is in the mix for a singles spot, along with freshman John Lieng. Bertram has a wicked serve and good volley, which also make him a strong doubles player. Lieng has improved his footwork to go with his steady forehand. He'll look to accrue more match experience early in the season.
Freshman Jesse Storr is probably the most athletic player on the team. He just needs to gain experience. Alex Garcia is starting to put it together, and as he grows into his 6-foot-5 body, he could be an outstanding player. Sophomore John Carter continues to improve and has a nice forehand weapon.
The doubles play will be the key to the team's success. They have to find a way to win one or more double match every dual match. The Petrels are looking at Allen/Johnson, Raymond/Santaloci and Bowie with either Bertram or Magee. Johnson has great hands and can move effectively off Allen's serve. Allen is a huge presence at the net with his 6-foot-4 frame. If they return serve well, they can play with anyone. Raymond/Santaloci will be a backcourt counterpunching team. They have solid returns and will make you play every point. Bowie has a strong serve and looks to pair with Bertram early, and then see if and when Magee is ready.
Oglethorpe has a very tough schedule, facing three nationally ranked teams – No. 15 Amherst, No. 35 Coe and No. 37 Sewanee. They face six teams that are regionally ranked – Rose-Hulman, Ursinus, Wheaton (Illinois), Texas-Dallas, Rhodes and Birmingham-Southern. The SAA is loaded again this year, with five teams regionally or nationally ranked.
"We definitely have our work cut out for us," Howell said, "but this team has really come together. We will play smart and fight hard in every match!"
The Petrels open the season at home against Piedmont Thursday at 3:30 p.m. After that, they'll host a pair of matches over the weekend, against Rose-Hulman on Saturday and Division I Citadel on Sunday, before going on the road to take on Covenant and then heading for Florida and spring break.