New Mexico Lobos Men’s Tennis – 2013-14 Season Review
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
To put some perspective into the season that Alan Dils and his Lobos threw out in 2014, maybe you start with the 2014 Mountain West Coach of The Year.
It was an award handed out by his Mountain West peers, who are well aware of the kind of season the 2013-2014 New Mexico Lobos put together. Dils took to the courts with a single senior, a roster bulging with six freshmen and his Lobos rolled out 20 wins.
And for the third straight year Dils and Bart Scott, UNM’s associate head coach, pushed their Lobos into the Mountain West Championship match.
“There were several outstanding candidates very deserving of this award, so it means a lot when your peers recognize you like this,” said Dils of his fifth MW coach of the year award. “It’s humbling, but it also tells you that they think you did a good job.”
The Lobos definitely threw out a good season in 2013-14. They finished with a 20-8 record which is the most team wins since 2009. There was not one Lobo who finished the season with a losing mark in singles and there were five Lobos with 20 or more wins starting with Andy Van Der Vyver at 20-13 and going up to Rodolfo Jauregui at 30-14. James Hignett went 25-11, Samir Iftikhar went 24-9 and Hayden Sabatka went 24-12.
UNM had three doubles teams with double-figure wins: Hignett/ Iftikhar with 11 wins, Jauregui/Sabatka with 12 wins and Hegelund Van Der Vyver with 11 victories.
UNM had a winning rate of 66 percent in singles and 63 percent in doubles.
“The challenge was to get young players up to speed quickly and for the most part they did that,” said Dils. “It was bitter-sweet to go 20-8 because we had a very good season, but with the schedule we drew up, we thought 20-8 would get us into the NCAAs.
“We beat four conference champions that get to go to the NCAAs because they won their respective conferences. We beat some teams that historically would have helped us more in the ranking than they did this year.
“You shoot for the Top 40, but that also hinges on what kind of seasons the teams have that you place on your schedule.”
The Lobos went into the 2014 Mountain West Tournament knowing they had to win it in order to grab the MW’s automatic NCAA berth. That pretty much meant that New Mexico had to beat its way into the finals and hope to upset No. 25 ranked Boise State.
The Lobos played maybe their most intense match of the season in the semifinals against San Diego State. The match lasted about five hours and went down to the final match being played by Iftikhar. He lost the first set 2-6, but came off the canvas to win the second set 7-6 and force a third set. He won the last set 6-3 and UNM got its shot at Boise State with a 4-3 win over the Aztecs.
“We gave ourselves a chance,” said Dils.
Of course, there were good reasons that the Broncos were ranked No. 25 and were the two-time defending Mountain West champs. They beat UNM 4-0 to claim their third straight MW title.
The Lobos fared better in the conference awards with Dils taking Coach of Year honors. Sabatka was named the league’s Freshman of The Year and also made All-MW in singles. Hignett and Iftikhar were All-MW in singles and Iftikhar/Hignett were named All-Mountain in doubles.
“We did a lot of good things this season,” said Dils. “For Rodolfo (Jauregui) to win 30 games as a freshman playing that high in the lineup is ridiculous. He had an amazing season. Samir and James in doubles were a very solid No. 1 and beat a lot of very good teams. They did a great job.
“But I wasn’t surprised at how well we played. I was more surprised that we didn’t make the NCAA tournament. If you tell me we go 20-8 with the schedule we had and I would tell you we are easily (ranked) in the 30s. It just didn’t work out for us.
“Our freshmen are only going to get better and better as they gain collegiate experience. In my opinion we have the top two freshmen in the conference. We have our top five guys returning. We lose only one senior, so the future is bright.”
The Lobos also were pretty bright in the classroom.
“We have 11 guys on the team and ten went to the academic awards banquet to be honored,” said Dils. “I think that also says something about the type of season we had. We had the second-highest GPA among (UNM) men’s teams with a 3.52. The guys are doing an amazing job in the classroom and on the court.”