Before the University of Memphis men's tennis team broke for the winter, head coach Paul Goebel stressed to his players the importance of staying in peak condition while continuing to build on the momentum they accumulated during a rigorous fall training season.
When the Tigers (4-2) returned to school as the spring season commenced, it was obvious they heard Goebel's message loud and clear.
"Over the holiday break, we really emphasized keeping their fitness up and continuing to practice, and they have all done that very well – they came back ready," Goebel said. "We have a very experienced team this year, so that is helpful."
Experience is the overwhelming theme for Goebel and his players in 2018. That experience allows his players to practice in ways that inexperienced squads cannot. In tennis, the mental aspect of the game is just as crucial as the physical aspect. In stressful game and match situations, it is important to understand how you want to react or play certain points.
"We practice a lot on the court, but we also do a lot of mental toughness exercises off the court," Goebel said regarding the team's practice regiment. "We work on concentration and talk about some of the different scenarios that may happen during a match."
With talented seniors Ryan Peniston, Andrew Watson, Kai Lemke and Shakeel Manji at his disposal, Goebel has a group with plenty of NCAA matches to draw scenarios from. That collective acumen gave the coaching staff the confidence to schedule up to 20 of Division 1 tennis' top 60 national programs – including recent matches at #4 Georgia and against #25 Texas Tech at home.
In the 1-4 loss to Georgia, Peniston was named the American Athletic Conference men's tennis player of the week for Jan. 30. Peniston went 2-0 in Athens, featuring his second ranked victory of the spring, an impressive 6-4, 6-0 romp over 25th ranked Emil Reinberg.
"(The players) know the kind of schedule we have and how tough our opponents are and it's their goal to play as many good teams as possible," Goebel said. "The idea is the better opponent you play, the better opportunities you have of beating good teams, and that allows your ranking to be higher."
With their take on all comers attitude and difficult schedule, the Tigers and coach Goebel know that losses still happen. When they do, the team is quick to realize that redemption is right around the corner.
"We've established ourselves to where a lot of teams in the country are willing to play us and know we are a very good team," Goebel said. "You can't get discouraged if you lose a match or two along the way because you know there are going to be more opportunities coming."
The Tigers will have a few days off before traveling to Michigan this weekend to face Michigan State (4-6) in East Lansing on Feb. 16 at 5 p.m. and Michigan (5-2) in Ann Arbor on Feb. 18 at 10 a.m.
Andrew Watson is one of the leaders of the men’s team as one of the four upperclassmen. He is currently ranked as the No. 111 player in men’s tennis.
Kai Lemke readies his grip has he waits for his opponent to serve. Lemke, from Germany, is one of four upperclassmen on the tennis team.