CLEVELAND – Ranked 13th in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, the Case Western Reserve University men's tennis team has its sights set on a deep NCAA Championship Tournament run and a top-10 ranking during the spring of 2014.
Sixth-year Head Coach Todd Wojtkowski, the reigning Wilson/ITA Central Region Coach of the Year, returns a deep and accomplished roster that will look to take a crucial step towards becoming a national power.
"The No. 13 ranking is a great motivator," said Wojtkowski. "We have been ranked in the teens the past three seasons. But, this year, we have set a very clear goal to not be 'teenagers' anymore. Our men want to grow into a perennial top 10 team."
Last season, the Spartans reached as high as seventh in the national polls and eventually ended the year ranked 13th. A historic 2012-13 campaign included the program's first team berth to the NCAA Tournament and a school-record 22 dual match victories (22-7 overall).
In the final match of the spring, the Spartans fell in a dramatic, 5-4 battle at No. 2 Kenyon College in the Round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Wojtkowski expects that ending to serve as another motivator for 2014.
"Falling a point short of the Elite 8 left a very bad taste in our mouth," stated Wojtkowski. "We have been training very hard to get back to that match – and this time, finish the job."
Five players return from that final match lineup, including the team's top two singles players in sophomore Christopher Krimbill (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain) and junior Will Drougas (Roanoke, Va./Salem).
Ranked 44th nationally and 11th in the ITA Central Region, Krimbill's 2012-13 season was one of the best in program history. He became the first Spartan to be named an ITA All-American and was tabbed Rookie of the Year by the ITA Central Region and the University Athletic Association. Krimbill tied the school record for singles wins (25-10 overall) and set the CWRU standard with 31 doubles victories (31-8 overall). This fall, Krimbill went 8-2 against top-flight tournament competition and was named UAA Player of the Week for the second time in his career.
"We expect Chris (Krimbill) to be our leader and our number one guy," said Wojtkowski. "He had a pretty successful fall in most respects, but he knows that he has to improve every day if he wants to compete for an NCAA Singles Championship."
Drougas enters the spring ranked 48th in the nation and 12th in the region after an 8-3 fall season. Drougas was named to the All-UAA Second Team last season after being selected UAA Rookie of the Year in 2012. He went 24-13 in the top two singles spots and boasts a career record of 52-30 – already ranking fourth in program history in singles wins (44). During his rookie season, Drougas became just the second player in school history to qualify for the NCAA Championship Tournament.
"Will feels exactly the same way as Chris," explained Wojtkowski. "Each guy wants to win a championship both individually and as a team. If you look back at the top-ranked teams during the past few years, they each have had two players in the top 32 that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Both Chris and Will have that ability."
Joining Krimbill and Drougas atop the lineup will be senior tri-captain Eric Klawitter (Arlington Heights, Ill./John Hershey), who is third all-time in CWRU history with 106 combined wins.
Ranked 14th in the region after a 9-2 fall that included a first-place finish in the B division at the Kenyon Invitational, Klawitter tied the school single-season record for singles wins (25-10 overall) along with Krimbill last season. A two-time second-team All-UAA selection and two-time UAA All-Academic honoree, Klawitter boasts career marks of 65-34 (singles) and 41-22 (doubles).
"Klaw (Eric Klawitter) has really shown the meaning of hard work and improvement since coming to CWRU," noted Wojtkowski. "He took advantage of the opportunity presented to him and has developed into a top three player. He is the heart and soul of this team from a competition standpoint, and he will certainly be a leader for us."
The head coach also expects winning contributions from Klawitter's fellow senior tri-captains John Healey (Columbia, Md./Atholton) and Derek Reinbold (Carmel, Ind./Park Tudor) as well as freshman James Fojtasek (Cypress, Texas/Cypress Woods).
Along with Klawitter, Healey has his sights set on the school career wins record as he has a combined 111 over his three-plus seasons. A two-time NCAA Championship Tournament qualifier in doubles play, Healey posted a 6-3 record in pairs this fall. Named second-team All-UAA at first doubles last spring, Healey is 63-39 in doubles and 48-29 in singles for his career.
A two-time UAA All-Academic pick, Reinbold went 21-11 in singles play last season and 4-3 this fall. Fojtasek was 7-3 in his rookie fall campaign.
While Healey is expected to be one of the team's top option in doubles play, Reinbold and Fojtasek will compete with the likes of sophomore Louis Stuerke (Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley Northwest) and senior Ben McClarren (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Davidson) for the final three singles spots.
"We are hoping that John can have another strong season," said Wojtkowski. "Along with him, our depth really shines at the doubles level. It will also be exciting to see that depth in competition for the final singles spots."
The Spartans open the spring season on Saturday, February 15 at 5:00 p.m. at the Mayfield Village Racquet Club. That match versus Oberlin College will be the squad's final tune-up prior to hosting the ITA Division III National Team Indoor Championship on February 21-23.
Hosting the event for the first time in school history, the Spartans will open versus the aforementioned Kenyon on Friday, Feb. 21 at 2:30 p.m. Overall, eight of the nation's top DIII programs will be competing for a championship.
"Last year, we went through the indoor portion of the schedule undefeated and with a ton of confidence," noted Wojtkowski. "I thought it was important for us to be part of this event, and what a great opportunity to host and compete to bring a national championship to our city. We've been training hard, and the guys can't wait."
Following the indoor championships, the Spartans continue a daunting schedule that includes a number of nationally ranked opponents from around the country and the UAA. With a completely remodeled outdoor facility of their own (Carlton Courts), the Spartans will also host a handful of those opponents in University Circle.
The prestigious UAA Championship Tournament, where the Spartans have placed third in back-to-back seasons, will be held on April 25-27 in Altamonte Springs, Florida.
"Our guys see the challenges and opportunities in front of them," said the head coach. "These are the opportunities we have been talking about in our program for the past couple of years. The pieces are in place for another special season, now we have to go out there and get it done."