Saluki tennis aces offseason

By Tyler Dixon

Conditioning has been the name of the game for the SIU Men’s Tennis team the past few weeks.

The Salukis are preparing for the Middle Tennessee State University Dale Short Shootout from Sept. 20 to Sept. 22 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Only four players return from last season’s roster that fell to Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference Team Championships and finished with an overall record of 13-6.

Entering his ninth year as Head Coach, Dann Nelson said he hopes his team can build off their positive showing last season.

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“We finished top three last year in the conference,” Nelson said. “The other two were ranked nationally.”

Drake University was ranked as high as 16th in the country last season, and Wichita State University climbed to 63rd in the country.

Junior Szymon Opieczonek said despite losing Badr Cherradi and Brandon Florez last season to graduation, the freshmen have the ability to help the team.

“We’re looking good this year,” Opieczonek said. “We lost two very good players last season. I think Michal (Kianicka) and Filip (Aleksic) can step up.”

Opieczonek said he and his teammates need to get better conditioned.

“We suffered last season from matches that were tight, like three set matches,” he said. “We didn’t come up really strong in those matches, so hopefully this can change and we can step up in the third set and win those points which we lost.”

Freshman Michal Kianicka said it is sometimes difficult with school and tennis, but this season will be worth it. He said just because each member of the team is an international player, it does not mean they are different.

“We are all international, we are also tennis players, we have a lot in common and spend a lot of time together off the court,” Kianicka said. “This is a great group of people.”

Kianicka and fellow freshman Filip Aleksic are the newest players on the roster and Nelson said with a smaller team, all players will have to step up.

“They have to contribute; we only have six players this year,” Nelson said.

Nelson said with these two recruits, they had the 14th ranked recruiting class among mid-majors in the country.

Sophomore Jonny Rigby said adding another player in the spring will help make the team better.

“I think if we could get one more good player in January, then I think we could potentially have a really good season,” Rigby said. “We need one more player to give us that extra depth.”

Senior Rafael Cuadrillero finished 2-1 last season at the Middle Tennessee State University Shootout. Cuadrillero beat players from the University of Alabama Birmingham and Lipscomb University.

Nelson said with this being Cuadrillero’s final season, he needs to be the best player he can be.

“It’s his senior year, he’s improved every year, we expect improvement,” Nelson said. “By the time guys are seniors, we’re expecting them to have their best year yet.”

The tournament at MTSU is in a mock dual format. They will have three doubles matches and six singles matches against MTSU, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Lipscomb.

Nelson said one word to describe his team now would be tired, but he said his players do everything that is asked of them.

“They work really hard, they do whatever we tell them to do and they don’t complain,” Nelson said.

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