Daily Egyptian

SIU men’s tennis reloads with youth

By Thomas Donley

The SIU men’s tennis team is going with a youth movement this fall.

Saluki coach Dann Nelson said with only three returning players from 2013 to 2014 he would need to recruit plenty of freshmen to fill his roster. He brought in six newcomers to fill out the lineup, and also provide insurance off the bench.

Nelson recruited Daniel Martinez of Enid, Okla., Max Phipps of West Midland, England and Peter Molloy of Brighton, England.

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The trio signed with the Salukis in April, but Nelson was not finished recruiting.

Over the summer, SIU signed Ransom Braaten of Chicago, Alex Pozo of St. Louis and Aidan Saggers of Cape Town, South Africa.

“All these guys will contribute,” Nelson said. “I’m very happy with what we’ve got coming in.”

Braaten was ranked No. 8 in the state of Illinois by Athletic DNA— a ranking website for tennis recruits — and Pozo was No. 2 in Missouri.

Braaten advanced to the second round of the Illinois High School Association state tournament as a senior at Lincoln Park High School. Pozo advanced to the Missouri State High School Athletic Association’s state finals his senior year, but was eliminated in the first round by the eventual champion.

Martinez led Enid High School to an eighth place in the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association state finals.

Molloy ended his summer by winning both the Under-18 Boy’s Final and the Men’s Open at the Weald Open Junior Tournament.

Phipps trained at the Corby Tennis Centre in Corby, United Kingdom, before coming to Carbondale. Saggers advanced to the Boys’ 16 Singles quarterfinals of the 2011 US Tennis Association’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Junior Tennis Classic.

Martinez was born in Ecuador and lived there for 10 years before coming to the United States. He said he is not intimidated by playing with the Salukis’ internationally diverse roster.

“It’s back to what I started with when I was younger,” Martinez said.

With the incoming freshmen, the Salukis have nine players on their roster, giving them better depth than last year. The 2013-2014 team featured only six players, meaning there was nobody on the bench in case of injury.

Nelson said having two-thirds of his roster made up of freshmen will not be a disadvantage.

“I’m looking at it as all positives right now,” Nelson said. “Freshmen don’t know who the guy is across the net from them … These new guys … they don’t know any better … They go out and play the same.”

Junior Jonny Rigby said having such a young roster will play out in favor the Salukis’ favor.

“When you come as a freshman, you’re really hungry to make an impression,” Rigby said. “There’s that extra incentive to prove yourself. Maybe in the last couple years, when we’ve been older, we could’ve done with more youth in the team.”

Opieczonek is looking forward to that challenge.

“Being a leader for them is going to be a great experience for sure,” Opieczonek said. “They don’t look too tough to coach. It’s going to be a fun journey.”

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