Daily Egyptian

Men’s tennis to start at Middle Tennessee

By Tony McDaniel

The SIU men’s tennis team will play its first competition this weekend.

The Salukis travel to the fourth-annual Middle Tennessee State University Dale Short Shootout in Murfreesboro, Tenn., to start its season. Matches will be played Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

SIU will play both singles and doubles matches against players from MTSU, Austin Peay State University and Belmont University. SIU beat Belmont and Austin Peay last spring.

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“We’ve gone to this thing three years in a row,” SIU head coach Dann Nelson said. “So we kind of know what to expect, at least the returners do.”

The Salukis will open the tournament at 9 a.m. Friday against Belmont.

Dann Nelson said only one of his doubles teams is set in stone.

Junior captain Jonny Rigby and sophomore Michal Kianicka will play together this fall after being partners for most of last season. The two were the only undefeated No. 1 doubles pairing in the MVC last season.

Only three of the nine players on the Saluki roster have played in an NCAA match.

“With so many new guys, we have to experiment with several pairings,” Nelson said. “We know we’re going to keep Jonny and Mike together, but we’re still working through the rest of the pairings.”

Nelson said Rigby, Kianicka and senior captain Szymon Opieczonek had set individual and team goals for the season. He said the team wants to be ranked regionally and the top doubles team nationally.

“I hope I can keep the No.1 spot on the team and get a good record in both singles and doubles,” Rigby said. “For me, it’s important to set a good example for the rest of the guys, especially the new ones.”

The Salukis played with only six players on the roster for most of last year, leaving no room for injury. With only three players returning, Nelson spent the offseason recruiting hard to prevent a similar situation for 2014-2015.

The result is a very young roster with a chance to prove itself this fall.

Freshman Daniel Martinez said he has goals of his own.

“I want to be able contribute to the team, whatever that may be,” Martinez said. “Just work hard and hopefully win conference.”

Rigby said this year’s freshmen are pushing the upperclassmen to be leaders.

“I think there’s always pressure on upperclassmen,” Rigby said. “The older you get, the more responsibility you have.”

Rigby said chemistry has not been an issue for the Salukis, although the majority of the team is new.

“It seems like everyone’s getting along well,” Rigby said. “It’s a lot of new faces, but everyone seems to be gelling pretty well. We have a lot of fun together.”

For the fall season, tournaments are decided by the number of wins each team collects. In contrast, the spring format uses dual matches, which teams face off head-to-head to take the best of seven matches.

The Salukis will play five tournaments this fall, including the SIU Fall Classic Oct. 18 against Eastern Illinois University. The tournaments will give Nelson some time to evaluate his freshman class.

“I just want to improve every day,” Nelson said. “We want to play our last tournament better than we played our first one.”

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