By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It won't be easy on Dils in the spring of 2014.
There will be some hesitation, some head scratching, some second guessing. But really that's good news for the New Mexico men's tennis coach. He has a lot of talent to chose from and a lot of decisons to be made: Who to play?
"We have a lot of good players," said Dils, in his 16th season as New Mexico's head coach. "We are deep again."
If you look at the Lobos' depth from the top, you start with Iftikhar. He will carry the No. 2 ranking in the Mountain Region (ITA) into the season and also is ranked No. 45 on the national level. Iftikhar is good, motivated and playing at a high level.
"It's always nice to have someone who can go out there and win at No. 1," Dils said of Iftikhar. "But nothing comes easy when you play No. 1. Everyone of the teams we play will have a good player at No. 1.
"But Samir is 45 in the nation and when you are ranked that high you have a chance to win every time you step onto the court."
Iftikhar made it to the final round of the 2013 USTA/ITA Division I Men's Mountain Regional and also was invited to the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championship in Flushing, N.Y., in November.
Iftikhar is pretty much a lock for Dils' No. 1 spot, but after that it gets interesting -- and becomes a dog fight. "We have a good core of returning players, but we have some young players we know will contribute right away," said Dils.
The New Mexico roster took two big hits from last year with the graduation of Conor Berg and Jadon Phillips. Phillips split time at No. 1 with Iftikhar and Berg was a fixture at No. 2 or No. 3.
Dils also returns a lone senior in Mads Hegelund, juniors Mitch McDaniels and James Hignett and a lone sophomore in Andrew Van Der Vyver.
"Andy does some pretty amazing things with the ball," said Dils. "He has a chance to be very, very good. Mitch has a lot of experience behind him and just gets better and better because of hard work.
"James was a consistent starter last year and he has all the shots. He just has to take to the court with more confidence and discipline. Mads has a lot of matches under his belt and we'll look to him for leadership."
Dils is heavy with youth with six freshmen on the roster. Sean Baklini and Shunji Hirooka are heading toward redshirt seasons, but Dils is expecting production this spring from Hayden Sabatka, Rodolfo Jauregui, Bryan Cunningham and Tanner Berkabile.
Sabatka and Jauregui actually will enter the spring as UNM's top ranked doubles team and are playing at such a high level that Dils expects them to vault into the singles lineup, too.
"They are very good players," said Dils. "Their results back that up. They are way ahead of the curve.
"And Bryan Cunningham is good and could be really good. He just has to realize what we already know; that he is very good. Tanner Berkabile also has a shot to make it into the top six because of his work attitude."
Dils said he will be looking at various combinations early in a season that has UNM playing 16 home matches and only six away from Albuquerque.
"It helps to have so many matches here, but that doesn't mean we don't go out there and work our butts off," said Dils.
A key to success on the tennis courts has to include points from your doubles teams. Dils says the dramatic emergence of the Sabatka/Jauregui combo (No. 4 in Mountain Region) makes it easier to juggle other Lobo talent in what should make UNM a fearful doubles threat.
"We have four returners with doubles experience (Hignett, Van Der Vyver, Hegelund, McDaniels) and then you throw Hayden and Rodolfo in there and we'll put out three very competitive teams.
"It's also time for Samir to set up in doubles. He is No. 45 in the country and he knows how to hit the ball and how to step up in pressure situations."
Hegelund and Van Der Vyver are ranked No. 10 in the Mountain Region.
The Lobos open the season Jan 17-18 at the Linda Estes Tennis Complex in the first of 12 consecutive home dates. The Lobos don't leave town until Feb. 21. UNM opens the Mountain West season at home on Jan. 31 vs. Boise State.The Lobos lost to the Broncos in the Mountain West Tournament last season 4-3 in the title match.
Boise State carries the top ITA ranking into spring ball at 46. San Diego State holds down the No. 49 spot and UNM is ranked. No. 72. Dils said there are several other MW teams capable of scratching their way into the ranking including Nevada, UNLV and Fresno State.
"You have to favor Boise State because they have won it the past two years and they are the highest ranked team," said Dils. "But I think there are at least six teams who are good enough to win conference.
"You want to win conference and you want to go to the NCAA Tournament," Dils said of his team's goals. "Last year we lost too many close matches against good teams.
"We have to come out tough early and win early. Last year I think we were too passive and were expecting to win because of our talent. But other teams have talent too and they aren't out there to roll over. You have to play with passion, too."
New Mexico Men's Tennis 2014 Season Roster
|Hometown (Prev School)|
|Sean Baklini||5-11||147||Fr.||HS||Albuquerque, N.M. (Eldorado HS)|
|Tanner Berkabile||6-1||155||Fr.||RS||Las Vegas, Nev. (Odyssey Charter HS)|
|Bryan Cunningham||5-10||160||Fr.||HS||Anthony, N.M. (Abeka Academy Online)|
|Mads Hegelund||5-10||170||Sr.||3L||Copenhagen, Denmark (George Washington)|
|James Hignett||5-10||164||Jr.||2L||Cardife, Wales (Reed's School)|
|Shunji Hirooka||5-9||145||Fr.||HS||Saitama, Japan (Urana Gakuin HS)|
|Samir Iftikhar||5-10||156||Jr.||2L||Bookham, United Kingdom (Howard of Effingham)|
|Rodolfo Jauregui||5-9||150||Fr.||HS||Cordoba, Veracruz (Instituto Tecnologico)|
|Mitch McDaniels||6-4||170||Jr.||2L||Tucson, Ariz. (Salpointe Catholic)|
|Hayden Sabatka||6-2||177||Fr.||HS||Denver, Colo. (Insight School of Colorado)|
|Andrew Van Der Vyver||6-1||150||So.||1L||Hamilton, New Zealand (St. Peter's School)|