Golden Eagle men's tennis team opens spring season this weekend

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. - Shortening the winter break may not be the ideal way to relax before beginning the spring semester, but for the Tennessee Tech men's tennis team, returning to campus early to resume practice was a welcome mission in preparation for season-opening play this weekend.

First-year head coach Dan Silverstein's squad came back several days early to get ready for a couple of early dual matches in Florida. Tech opens the 2009 portion of its schedule Friday at Florida A&M, then faces Florida State on Saturday.

Tech will put an extremely young lineup on the courts this weekend, with three freshmen and three sophomores sated to see action.

"With the addition of two talented freshman in Alex Chen and Oscar Pachon this semester, we can have a special year," Silverstein said. "I have been in coaching a while now, and I have not seen a team that fights for each other as much as these guys do."

Sophomore Dean O'Brien is expected to play at the No. 1 position for Silverstein, while Chen is No. 2 and Pachon fills the No. 3 slot. Freshman Josh Girling will play at No. 4, freshman Justin Kirstein at No. 5, and sophomore Mario Gutierrez at No. 6. Also back this season are sophomores Lloyd Harris and James Crawford. Harris will team with Kirstein at No. 2 doubles, while Crawford is sidelined with an injury.

While Ohio Valley Conference play is still several weeks off, the Golden Eagles have key matches against top ranked opponents at the top of the schedule.

Florida A&M is Tech's first foe. The Rattlers finished atop the southern division in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last season going 3-0 in their division and 14-11 overall. Tech is 7-0 all-time against FAMU, with the series beginning in 1999. The last time the two teams met was three years ago, when the Golden Eagles claimed a 4-3 decision.

"FAMU is a very athletic, talented team," Silverstein said. "They are an outdoor team. We will only have a day and half of outdoor practice before we play, so we will see how we adapt."

Tech stays in Tallahassee overnight to face one of the top-ranked teams in the country, Florida State, which is ranked No. 11 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association pre-season poll. The Seminoles finished the 2008 season third in the ACC behind national finalist Virginia and a half game behind North Carolina. Individually, the Seminoles have three players ranked in the top 100, led by No. 29 Clint Bowles and No. 30 Jean-Yves Aubone.

"To be in preseason ranked No. 11 is enough said," according to Silverstein . "They have some highly ranked players, but we should match up to them pretty well. With our guys, we have a chance to knock off a team that is heavily favored."

After their jaunt into the Sunshine State, Tech will have less than a week before traveling to Middle Tennessee for an afternoon match on Friday, Jan 23.

"We will take this year one match at a time," Silverstein added. "Our goal is to win the OVC regular season and tournament titles and make the NCAA Championships. Our strong non-conference schedule should get us ready and to face some of the top schools in the OVC."