Feb. 9, 2004
Excellent, phenomenal, extraordinary, remarkable. Any of these words can be used to describe last year's University of New Mexico men's tennis team. They achieved what most programs can only dream of, both athletic and academic success.
The Lobos won the Mountain West Conference regular season championship and finished second in the conference tournament. Five men were selected to the All-MWC singles or doubles team. Bart Scott earned the Regional Tennis Magazine/ITA Arthur Ashe Jr. Sportsmanship and Leadership Award to cap off his stellar career which included his 90 career singles wins, the third most in the program's 95-year history. Assistant coach Loren Dils took home his second Region VII Coach of the Year award. Divan Coetzee represented the Lobos at the NCAA singles tournament while Brent Salazar and Ryan Stotland were invited for the doubles tournament.
They were named by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association as an ITA All-Academic team for its 3.5 team grade point average, the highest for a UNM men's team that semester. Five different men were named ITA Scholar athletes and six were named to the conference's all-academic team.
So how can New Mexico head coach Alan Dils make the 2003-04 team an even better success?
Well, despite everything the UNM men accomplished, Dils still believes the year could have been better.
"The year was very good, overall I am pleased," Dils said, recollecting all the awards and honors. "It could have been better with a couple more wins instead of close losses and without the injuries."
If any team has a chance of topping the success of last year's team, it is the men Dils has gathered for this season. With eight returning lettermen and two of the best players in Canada joining the Lobos as freshmen, great things are expected to come.
"We are so deep in our line-up," Dils said. "The guys are all competing and pushing each other for a spot in the line-up and it is what sets us apart from the others in the Mountain West. When those teams had injuries last year, they couldn't fill their lineup the way we could."
Needless to say, if the Lobos are not in the running for both regular season and tourney championship, Dils will be very disappointed.
Leading the hunt for the Lobos is Divan Coetzee. In just three years, Coetzee has made a respectable name for himself throughout the nation and given New Mexico some of the attention it deserves. Coetzee is a very competitive person who hates to lose which makes him work really hard according to Dils.
"He plays the mental game and works his opponents down," Dils said. "On the court, you know exactly what you are going to get from him, he will fight everything out and will play even if he is injured."
After last May's appearance, Coetzee is only the second player in Lobo history to go to the NCAA's singles tournament two consecutive years. The only other Lobo in history to do so was Tad Berkowitz in 1994 and 1995.
This year could be Coetzee's breakaway from the rest of the field. If he can stay healthy, he will have the opportunity to break the program's all-time singles win record, needing only 19 more wins. He will begin the spring season as the No. 1 singles player in Region VII thanks to his spectacular showing in the fall.
Coetzee went 19-6 in the fall season, showing he deserves his No. 1 regional ranking instead of the preseason No. 2 ranking and No. 92 national ranking. He faced 11 nationally-ranked individuals, including the top two players in the nation. Of all those competitors, only two were ranked below him. Arguably his biggest upset was that of the second best player in the nation, Georgia's Bo Hodge. He won the Rolex Region VII Championship and played in three national invitationals. Coetzee started the season with a ten-game win streak with not one match going beyond two sets.
The second senior is Jasmin Hodzic. According to Dils, last year was a breakthrough year for him and he finally reached the level of maturity needed to succeed at the collegiate level. Hodzic has worked harder and believed in himself more, allowing him to play better and turn into the biggest surprise of the season.
This year Hodzic has stepped up as a team leader, gathering the rest of the men and getting them to work hard and run more to obtain their best. He compiled a 9-8 singles record that includes a run to the semifinals of the Balloon Fiesta before having to withdraw due to an injury. He worked his way into the doubles rotation and will start the spring season ranked 13th in the region with sophomore Henry Gers after an overall 9-7 doubles record.
Between last year and this fall, David Kowlaski has proven that he is more than capable of becoming the top player for UNM. He was an All-Conference singles selection as a sophomore while he was trying new things according to Dils.
Before the fall season began, Dils said, "He did really good things but needs to mature. He is very emotional on the court, wears them on his sleeve."
Kowalski has not only matured, but he has just amazed people with his talent and success. Due to his riveting fall performance, he begins the spring season tied for the No. 2 ranking in the region for singles. He is also ranked in the top four with Ryan Stotland in the region for doubles. Kowalski finished the fall season with a 12-6 singles record and an 8-4 doubles record. He fought his way into the semifinals at the ITA Mountain Regionals with a win over No. 85 Guillaume Bouvier of Boise State and then stepped into the second position for the Lobos at the team regionals. He was the only member to go undefeated in both singles and doubles at the team regionals..
The other junior, Ryan Stotland, is a huge asset to the Lobos after his astounding season last year. He started off beating nationally ranked players but got hurt and didn't fully return until the conference championships. Going to the nationals as a sophomore in doubles was a great experience for him and now he has the opportunity to tell the others what it was like and push them to get there as well, Dils said. Dils also said he expects great things from Stotland because he is starting to believe he should be playing with the best and the confidence has helped him immensly.
Stotland enters the spring season as the 16th-ranked singles player in the region after he started the fall season 6-1 but finished 6-7. He started the fall ranked No. 33 nationally and No. 1 regionally with David Kowalski in doubles. They begin the spring season ranked fourth regionally after they finished the fall 8-4 in doubles.
All four sophomores are very talented and will have a shot at making the line-up in the spring. Henry Gers received the most playing time of the four sophomores. He made an immediate impact, arriving in Jan. and filling in when the other players had injuries.
"He is an excellent competitior who just won't stop," Dils said. "He worked hard all summer to improve his game. He is a good all-court player, but we want him to play the net more."
Gers finished with a 12-11 singles record after participating in six tournaments, including the ITA All-American qualifying tournament. He also played at the No. 5 spot for the Lobos at the team regionals in Boise, Idaho. Gers compiled an 8-8 record in doubles playing primarily with Jasmin Hodzic.
Anders Hanisch didn't see much time last year or in the fall but he could this year.. He only participated in two tournaments and went 5-5 in singles.
"He works hard and is a great kid, very enthusiastic," Dils said. "He drastically improved his backhand and worked hard in the weightroom to get stronger. He really pushes the guys and enjoys every minute spent on the court. He is very outspoken and if guys in the lineup do not do their job, he will tell them so or do it himself."
Nick Ames also saw some playing time last year and could do so this year. He went 7-7 in singles this fall including an invite to the ITA All-American Pre-qualifying tournament.
"He plays well and proved he can compete at the Division I level," Dils said. "He has a great return, great backhand but needs to get into the net more and be comfortable there. He just needs to work on consistency too."
Eric Conklin was a good surprise last year according to Dils. He saw limited playing time last year and this fall but was fairly successful when he did compete. Conklin went 6-4 in singles this fall after partaking in three tournaments.
"He had been in school for a year without playing and was out of shape (when he joined the team) but muscled through it and gained weight for more power," Dils said. "He has had some really close losses to good opponents, he just needs a little bit of an edge on one of his strokes to change the outcome."
"Hiroud is a good, competitive player who will grind and work really hard during matches," Dils said. "He is very fast, is an extremely tough out, and has an excellent forehand."
"Robert is young and coming out of Canada very early," Dils said. "He was one of top guys in Canada and was younger than most guys he played. Robert will be very good over the next four years as he plays and gets more experience."
Akhavan has made a marvelous transition to the collegiate competition. He went 13-5 in singles that earned him a 22nd ranking in the region beginning in the spring. Tack on his 10-4 doubles record that includes a 7-1 run with Coetzee that earned the duo a spring season 11th ranking in the region.
Grzeskowiak compiled a 7-6 singles record during his first collegiate fall season His 7-6 record came from three tournaments played, including the ITA Mountain Regionals where he blanked two opponents for 6-0, 6-0 wins. He saw limited time at doubles but ended with a 2-5 record after partnering with Nick Ames (2-3) and Henry Gers (0-2).
To be the best, they have to play the best and Dils has made sure they will. The spring schedule contains 11 nationally ranked opponents including San Diego State, Harvard, Boise State, Brown, BYU, and Texas Tech. Four teams the Lobos will face made it to the NCAA team tournament. There will also be an east coast and west coast trip. The Lobos make their first trip to the California coast when they visit Santa Clara and San Francisco for the first time at the end of Jan. and beginning of Feb. New Mexico then starts the month of March with a three-match tour of the Ivy League schools. They will take on Yale, No. 31 Harvard, and No. 46 Brown.
After hosting just five home matches last year, the Lobos are fortunate to spend more time at home this year with nine of their 19 matches at the UNM tennis complex. The Lobos welcome Northern Arizona for the annual First State Bank/Comcast Invitation to start the season on Jan. 25. Regional foes Boise State, Colorado, Montana, Montana State and Denver will all make appearances in Albuquerque during Feb. and March.
Finally, the men will play three of the five conference matches at home. They will host Air Force, San Diego State and UNLV, Apr. 9-11, repctively. New Mexico will need to use the home court to their advantage with San Diego State being one of their main competitors in the conference and UNLV having improved immensely from last year.
The Lobos will wrap up conference play in Salt Lake City, Utah Apr. 16-17, playing Utah and BYU, respectively. BYU finished last year ranked just behind the Lobos with a No. 61 national ranking and shared the MWC regular season crown with the Lobos.
New Mexico will then head to San Diego State Apr. 19-May 1, where they will vie for the MWC Tournament Championship and an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.. San Diego State claimed last year's title over the Lobos in the championship match and shared the regular season title with them.