By Dalton Ray —
In 2016, men’s tennis suffered their first losing season in 11 years. Reloading in 2017, coach Rex Ecarma coined last season’s team the “Redeem Team.”
The Redeem Team quickly made a turnaround and made the NCAA tournament last season. Ecarma knew his team would bounce back, but how quickly they did took him by surprise.
“We struggled in 2015-16 … I didn’t think we would show up the next semester (fall 2016) and do what they did,” Ecarma said. “Did I know we would get back to the NCAA tournament and advance? Yes … but to get there the very next semester was very surprising.”
After such a big turnaround, the Cardinals have already started gaining respect.
“We started to get invites to the top events in the country — the Florida Invitational, the Georgia Invitational, the Dick Vitale Invitational. These are tournaments that are really hard to get into,” Ecarma said.
Louisville took the invitations and made the most, leading to two players nationally ranked in singles — No. 75 Chris Morin-Kougoucheff and No. 119 Parker Wynn — and three ranked doubles teams.
The doubles pair of Wynn and Morin-Kougoucheff is No. 6 in the country. They’re the first doubles team in program history to win the ITA Regionals Championship.
The two advanced to the semifinals of the ITA National Championship, but fell to the eventual champions.
The pair of Wynn and Ciro Lampasas is No. 24, while George Headley and Federico Gomez check in at No. 46.
Even though Louisville has five ranked players, Ecarma feels like senior Nicolas Rouanet was snubbed by the national rankings.
“I’m surprised he’s not. To me, he had the best singles performance of our team this fall,” Ecarma said. “He brings a love for the game to the team.”
The two other seniors are Lampasas and Sergio Salazar. Ecarma says that Lampasas brings a lot of personality to the team and keeps everyone loose.
Salazar brings off the court maturity for U of L.
“He’s the co-president of the student advisory council, good student, got his internships ready,” Ecarma said. “He’s a good example of having your life off the court ready.”
The backbone of the team, the junior class is one of best overall classes Ecarma has had in recent years.
“They’ve been on the court since they were freshmen … you know what to expect with them and you can trust them. They’re all very coachable as well,” Ecarma said.
The team’s top-ranked player, Morin-Kougoucheff, has 42 career singles wins through two seasons.
Headley and Brandon Lancaster came in the same recruiting class with Morin-Kougoucheff. The two are very loud, expressive players that add personality to the team.
New to the junior class is junior college transfer Federico Gomez. Ecarma says Gomez has the strongest serve on the team and will add an immediate impact for U of L.
“We circled Federico when we were recruiting Nico (Rouanet). He has certain things we can’t teach. Federico has power and brings a sense of toughness,” Ecarma said.
According to Ecarma, Gomez’s fall success has “woke up a sleeping giant.”
Coming off a record-setting year, Wynn will have eyes on him as a sophomore. Wynn tied a program record with 42 singles wins.
The other two sophomores, Clement Filho and Fredrik Moe, will add depth on the lower courts this season.
Looking ahead to the schedule, Louisville jumps right into heavy competition.
Apart of their season-opening double-header, Louisville takes on Butler, an NCAA tournament team.
The Cardinals have eight teams on their schedule that made the 2017 NCAA tournament and three are non-conference opponents.
With such a difficult schedule, it’s hard not to talk about among the players.
“A lot of the guys talk about the schedule but we look at it as a positive. It’s an opportunity for us to be even higher ranked,” Morin-Kougoucheff said.
Ecarma said the Cardinals will start the year ranked in the mid-30s.
You can follow Dalton Ray on Twitter @dray5477.
Photo by Dalton Ray / The Louisville Cardinal