By Dalton Ray–
For the third time in 14 years, the men’s tennis team finished without a winning record. Reaching a 15-17 mark, the men’s team only registered one conference win in 12 attempts in 2016.
“We lost 85 percent of our starting lineup two years ago. Last season’s group is one of the least experienced teams I’ve had in a decade or more, and it showed,” coach Rex Ecarma said. “Sometimes they were right there to win, and we’d find ourselves on the losing end. And that happened more than it should have.”
Heading into the year with returning players and fresh faces, Ecarma is expecting a step up in performance.
“We’re in the second year of the rebuilding cycle. That’s when you start to see improvement and that’s what we’re all expecting,” Ecarma said.
Losing two seniors in Alex Gornet and Jeff Brown, Ecarma said the two had different effects on the team.
“Alex always took care of business, very professional. Handling school, game preparation, stretching, making sure his body was right, he was a very disciplined guy,” Ecarma said. “Jeff Brown was a gamer, he was always ready to play matches. Some people love to train and some love competition, and Jeff loved competition. So this team was able to take that from those two.”
Chris Morin-Kougoucheff is only a sophomore but has the captain title attached to his name.
“Chris isn’t afraid of the big moment,” Ecarma said. “He wants to play No. 1. He wants to play the best players.”
Morin-Kougcheff said there’s been a big difference in his role from this year to last.
“Coach told me I was going to be captain and I’d be playing high this season, so I had to come in and prepare. Mentally (the position) is the biggest difference, because I’m responsible for a lot more things now,” Morin-Kougoucheff said.
Ecarma also had praise for his co-captain, senior Sean Donohue.
“Sean is a different player from last year.He really turned it on at the end of the fall. He beat some really good players, won the Vanderbilt Invitational in doubles. He really wants to grab No. 1 doubles,” Ecarma said. “We’ve got Sean playing the best of his played in his college career. Sean made a real dedication as soon as he got back, he’s made a real commitment to his team.”
Donohue isn’t the only player who has improved.
“Santiago Salazar had a really good fall semester,” Ecarma said. “I think he, Chris and Sean have probably made the biggest jump from last season.”
Newcomers Ciro Lampasas, Nicolas Rouanet, Clement Filho and Parker Wynn will add a different dimension.
“Nicolas and Ciro are both junior college players, so this is their third year in college tennis. Parker, while he may be a freshman, he is a high-volume freshman. Which means that he played in so many tournaments before he got here, his schedule looked like a college season. Filho was in the finals of the Cincinnati Open,” Ecarma said.
By watching his team play in the fall, Ecarma sees things he likes about his team and things he’d like to see improve.
“This team is going to be loud and proud. You want to know that you have a band of brothers and that’s what we have,” Ecarma said. “I’d like to start seeing guys picking a role in this lineup and be good at that role. Not everyone is going to be the star singles player or the star doubles pair. This team needs to establish, accept and be good at their roles.”
The time frame of when players begin to accept or notice their role is a fluid and crucial aspect, with players understanding their role by March.
“Every great championship team I’ve had, the players all had unique roles. They walked into that role. This team needs to realize that and ask, ‘What role am I going to play?’ and ‘What can I do to help this team win?’ That’s one way we can improve,” Ecarma said. Entering the third year of the ACC, pressure is starting to build to win and win now.
“No one will put more pressure on me than myself, because I want to win championships. We won championships in C-USA and the Big East,” Ecarma said. “This program wasn’t built on losing. I can’t even remember the last time we had a losing record here. We’re out to redeem ourselves.”
Ecarma is an enthusiastic coach and great motivator that always strives for the highest goals. Watching his team grow is a goal this year.
“I want a big step in improvement, winning more ACC matches and big time non-conference matches. I’d like to see some of our wins be more decisive,” Ecarma said. “I want this team to stay close-knit.”
The ACC has four teams in the top 10 in the nation, including back-to-back national champs Virginia and second-ranked Wake Forest. The Cards host Virginia, No. 9 North Carolina, Duke and Notre Dame this season.
Photo by Dalton Ray / The Louisville Cardinal