June 27, 2013
Albuquerque, N.M. --- In back-to-back seasons, the New Mexico Lobo tennis team has come within a hair of the Mountain West title. In 2013, the team lost 4-3 to Boise State in the championship game, losing in a third set tiebreaker in the final match. While UNM is oh-so-close to being the best in the league on the court, there is no doubt off the court, the Lobos are the class of the league.
In a sport where rosters aren't overly big, the Lobo tennis team had five members: Mads Hegelund, Simon Hegelund, James Hignett, Samir Iftikhar and Jadon Phillips, named to the Mountain West Scholar-Athlete team.
Now five might seem like a big number, and it is. There are only six flights of singles in any one tennis match. To even be named a Mountain West Scholar-Athlete, a student-athlete must have completed at least two academic terms at the member institution, while maintaining a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 or better, and have participated in varsity competition in an NCAA-sponsored sport. However, perspective is a great thing, and there is no better perspective for sports than a score:
New Mexico 5, Rest of Mountain West 4.
The University of New Mexico tennis program by itself has more players on the MW Scholar-Athlete team then the rest of the conference combined, and that is a stat that makes head coach Alan Dils as proud as a coach can be.
"I am very proud of the work that our players put in on the tennis court and in the classroom," said Dils. "The fact that we achieve over a 3.4 GPA and have five out of the nine Men's Tennis Scholar Athletes in the entire MWC attests to the priorities we set and how they work."
There's a saying that when looking for a quarterback in football, all things being equal, go with the smarter guy. The same can be said for tennis, a sport which is not just about athleticism and stamina, but about geometry, physics, and psychology. It's no wonder three of UNM's five scholar-athletes are psychology majors.
Dils knows that the academic side of the equation directly correlates to the court. "I firmly believe that in order to be a great tennis player you also have to be a great student."
The group is also well rounded, as Jadon Phillips' Arthur Ashe Regional Award attests. That was the second straight year that a Lobo earned that honor. The team also had a conference leading eight members selected to the Mountain West All-Academic team.
All of the honors came about as UNM raced through an injury-riddled season at 14-13, coming within a whisker of the MW title, despite hardships like using 19 different doubles combinations over the 27 match season.
"I've had years where I've almost never changed a lineup and this year we had around 20 different lineups," said Dils. "We tried so many different combinations throughout the season ... we had some strange, bizarre injuries and some illness that put guys out."
Despite those bizarre circumstances, it never affected what the student-athletes did off the court in the classroom, and in the end, that has turned into a huge source of pride for the program, along with the back-to-back Mountain West Championship Match appearances.
Sounds like there are plenty of great tennis players in UNM's stable of student-athletes, and plenty coming for the future as well.