Freshman flourishes for Salukis

By Gus Bode

‘ ‘ ‘ Brandon Florez is having no problem fitting in with the defending Missouri Valley Conference champions.

The freshman finished sixth overall in flight one of singles play last week at the Hoosier Invitational in Bloomington, Ind., – his first collegiate tournament. Flight one is where a team’s top player competes.

‘It was cool, and it was surprising,’ Florez said. ‘The original plan was for me to play flight two; I didn’t know they moved me up. On the bus the day of the tournament, they told me I was playing flight one and it changed my mindset. I said, this is where I want to be and it’s time to show my coach I belong here.’


The Texas native trained at the Lakes Tennis Academy in his home state and had dreams of competing at the collegiate level for a big Texas university. Florez said he wanted to play for a Big-12 university, but the teams told him he had not played in enough matches.

Florez said he then reached out to SIU coach Dann Nelson.

‘I told coach Nelson about my situation, and he said he would come watch me play,’ Florez said. ‘He liked what he saw and, well, here I am.’

Florez said he has enjoyed his time at SIU so far and loves the competition on the tennis court.

‘I don’t want to sound clich’eacute; or anything, but I feel free there,’ Florez said.

Florez joins a team that features six new players, including four freshmen and two transfers. The team has a goal to repeat as Missouri Valley Conference champions, but it is going to take a lot of hard work from the new players, said graduate assistant coach Hugo Vidal .

Vidal, who was part of last season’s championship team, said he thinks Florez will play a major role in the team’s quest to repeat as champions.


‘We had good expectations for this kid, and he is actually a bit better than expected,’ Vidal said. ‘He is a very good doubles player, a fast learner, one of the guys on the team who can pick the whole team up and help them perform well.’

The fall season does not affect the team’s standing in the Missouri Valley Conference; instead, it serves as a warm-up to the spring season.

Nelson said he tries not to put any pressure on the players and focuses on encouraging the team to play hard.

Nelson said he is using this time to push Florez to the next level in order to help the Salukis repeat as conference champions in the spring.

‘He has this whole other level in him; he has this extra gear that only special players have,’ Nelson said. ‘We’re trying to get that out of him consistently. He has played pretty well for a freshman; he has done well; and eventually we’ll get this other level out of him, and he’ll be amazing.’