By Rob Schabert, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information
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COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Two-time defending Ohio Valley Conference regular season tennis champion Tennessee Tech will get the spring dual match schedule underway this Saturday when it travels to Knoxville to challenge No. 6 Tennessee.
The Golden Eagles and Vols play the morning match beginning at 9 a.m. CT at the Goodfriend Tennis Center. It is the first dual match of the year for both teams.
On Wednesday, Golden Eagle coach Kenny Doyle was still awaiting word that his players had all returned to campus from locations around the globe. The team planned to practice Thursday and Friday amidst the first two days of classes for the spring semester, and Doyle will decipher the lineup. Expected to challenge for the top spots in the lineup will be Oleksiy Arovin, a sophomore from the Ukraine, Vasily Eremeev, a senior from Russia, and Alberto Esteban, a freshman from Spain.
Doyle's Golden Eagle squad has rolled through the past two seasons unbeaten in OVC play with a perfect 16-0 record, netting the veteran mentor back-to-back OVC Coach of the Year awards.
It has been the near-impossible non-conference early season schedules the past two years that have helped build the Golden Eagles into such a success once the season reaches OVC play, and Doyle is hoping that this year's early matches will continue that challenging trend. In addition to Tennessee, Tech's non-OVC matches include contests against top-notch foes such as No. 48 Louisville, No. 62 Georgia State, UNC Asheville, Chattanooga, Lipscomb, Kennesaw State and UNC Greensboro.
"There's no question that our difficult non-conference schedule helps prepare us for the OVC schedule," Doyle said. He added that the 2014 season will be a year of transition for his squad, as it looks to replace some very big roles.
The Golden Eagle lineup will have a distinctly different look in 2014, with the absence of standouts Alejandro Augusto, two-time OVC Player of the Year Syrym Abdukhalikov, and veteran Artura Santa Ruiz. The current Golden Eagle roster includes just one senior (Eremeev) and one junior (Artem Tarasov/photo above). Rounding out the roster are sophomores Arovin, Alvaro Cintas, Gagan Jain, and Othon Lima, plus freshmen Esteban and Yusuke Yodono. Lima is out of action until February with a shoulder injury.
Tech plays its first nine matches of the season on the road, before playing at home for the first time on March 15-16 with OVC matches against Murray State and Austin Peay.