May 2, 2006
Room is still available for the public to attend the FSU tennis program’s “Selection Wednesday” celebration at the Varsity Club. To find out more information and for directions
Room is still available for the public to attend the FSU tennis program’s “Selection Wednesday” celebration at the Varsity Club. To find out more information and for directionsclick here.
Story contributed by Jim Lamar
General Manager, Osceola
Will a No. 17 national ranking and a late season surge be enough for the Florida State men’s tennis team to host the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament?
Come tomorrow, FSU fans will know.
If somehow the NCAA selection committee would simply give Florida State a pass for some early season slipups, men’s tennis coach Dwayne Hultquist might not be sweating so much. But a string of injuries that rocked his lineup way back in January may keep the Seminoles from hosting the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. As it is, Hultquist’s team is ranked 17th in the country – and, typically, the top 16 teams earn the right to host first-and-second-round matches.
“It’s probably 50/50 that we host,” Hultquist said. “The 15th and 16th teams are up in the air right now. Oklahoma State is 15th, but really has no wins over top-20 teams. If (the committee) goes on quality wins, then we’ll pass them. Florida is 16th, but they lost their No. 1 player and you don’t know if they’ll get penalized for that. Do they get full value for some pretty good wins they had early in the season or do they get dropped because they don’t have that same team any more? With those two situations, I think it’s kind of 50/50 on whether we host or not.”
One way or the other, Hultquist figures it might be a safe bet that FSU and Florida will meet once again in NCAA play.
The Gators knocked FSU out of the Elite Eight last year in College Station, Texas. Two years ago, the Seminoles lost to 20th-ranked Arizona in the opening round in Gainesville. The year before, Florida beat FSU in Gainesville in a first-round match.
“I think there’s a pretty good chance we end up at Florida or they end up coming here,” Hultquist said.
Just being ranked 17th in the country is a pretty good spot for this team, especially considering the hole it dug itself to start the season.
FSU lost matches to lesser-ranked teams like Louisiana-Lafayette (ranked No. 47 at the time) and Nebraska (ranked 75th at the time).
“At one point we had three freshmen starting out of our six spots,” senior Chris Westerhof said. “That was tough on the team and we ended up with some losses that we probably shouldn’t have had. But then the freshmen improved a lot and they got used to playing college tennis and we started to overcome those injuries. We knew we’d be a good team if we were all healthy and I think we’ve sort of proven that now.”
That early season swoon saw FSU drop in the ITA poll from a preseason No. 11 ranking all the way to 38th by early February, but the Seminoles began a steady climb back to the nation’s elite thanks to some big wins late in the season.
A win over then-No. 4 Duke on April 2 and a win over then-No. 10 North Carolina at the ACC tournament helped the Seminoles hit the Top 20 again.
For Westerhof, seeing the late-season push reminds him of the team that advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history this time a year ago.
“When we had those losses, we didn’t get down,” said Westerhof, a native of Durban, South Africa. “We realized we had to work harder to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Dwayne sat us down and said, `You might be disappointed right now, but we didn’t really start that much better last year.’
“And he was right. Last year we had some early losses and it turned out to be a pretty good season.”
Westerhof, FSU’s career leader in doubles victories, did his part to make sure this season turned out to be pretty good as well by teaming with Abougzir to give FSU one of the top doubles teams in the country.
They notched a huge win over the No. 1 team in the country, Ohio State’s Scott Green and Ross Wilson, on March 4. They split a pair of matches with North Carolina’s top team, ranked fourth in the country. They won a win over Virginia’s top team, ranked seventh in the country.
Westerhof and Abougzir were serving for match point on Pepperdine’s top team, which is ranked third in the country, when the Waves clinched the doubles point in their early season match.
Now ranked No. 11, Westerhof and Abougzir are assured spots in the NCAA doubles championships.
“They play hard every match,” Hultquist said. “They have really good chemistry. They play to each other’s strengths. Ytai has a good forehand and Chris looks for a lot of balls off his shots. They cover each other’s overheads very well. They’ve just really started to hit their stride together.”
That chemistry was not a sure thing when the season started Westerhof spent the first three years of his FSU career partnering with former Seminole Jeff Groslimond and, together, they won 72 doubles matches – including a huge win over the No. 3 team in the country last season that sparked FSU to an upset over Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“I think it took them a while to hit their stride as far as jelling together,” Hultquist said. “They are not the biggest serving team. Their hands are very good and they return serves real well. I was impresses with how they played in a couple of tough losses right there to start the season and they figured out what would work for them and have gotten it going.”