Eighth-Ranked CWRU Men’s Tennis to Open 2017 Spring Season this Weekend

Eighth-Ranked CWRU Men’s Tennis to Open 2017 Spring Season this Weekend

The Case Western Reserve University men's tennis team, ranked eighth among NCAA Division III teams, will begin its 2017 spring season with three matches on the road this weekend.  The Spartans will take on the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology at the West Indy Racquet Club on Friday, February 10th at 6:00 p.m., and then play a pair of matches at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana on Saturday, February 11th, taking on the Little Giants at 9:00 a.m. to be followed by a contest against Monmouth College at approximately 12:30 p.m.

The Spartans will be back in action following a fall campaign that featured some tough competition, including a number of individual tournaments where players faced off against primarily Division I competition.  Case Western Reserve's two leaders in singles victories were a pair of freshman – Sam Concannon (6-2) and Anthony Kanam (6-3), while senior Josh Dughi reached the round of 16 and freshmen Siddharth Rajupet and Concannon each made it to the round of 32 at the singles draw of the 2016 ITA Fall Regionals.  Dughi is ranked 21st in singles play in the Central Region entering the spring.

The fall success followed one of the top seasons in the program's history in the spring of 2016, when the Spartans qualified for the NCAA Championships for just the third time in the program's history, reaching the round of 16 of the tournament and matching a school record for wins with a 22-8 record.  CWRU was ranked as high as fifth in the ITA Division III Poll, the highest national ranking in the program's history.

Case Western Reserve will now turn its attention towards the spring, featuring a much younger roster than in previous seasons, with eight freshmen and four sophomores comprising 12 of the 18 roster spots entering the open matches of the season.  In particular, the Spartans will be missing two key cogs from their lineup this spring, following the graduation of multiple-time All-Americans C.J. Krimbill and Louis Stuerke after last spring.

"We have shifted our appearance as a team into being a much more gritty and deep team," said Head Coach Todd Wojtkowski, who is in his ninth season with the squad.  "We don't have that 'home run' combo of guys anymore.  However, we seem to have more than enough guys that are incredibly hard to knock down.  They will fight harder than any CWRU team you have seen in the past because of the energy and passion they have, combined with a higher level of skill."

In addition to Dughi, the Spartans are anticipating a boost from the return of senior James Fojtasek to the lineup, after he missed the fall season.  Fojtasek, who earned All-UAA Second Team honors for his play at no. 2 doubles last year, ended the 2015-16 season ranked 48th in Division III and 14th in the Central Region for his singles play, going 18-9 during the year.  Senior Phillip Gruber, who earned All-UAA Second Team honors at no. 2 doubles with Fojtasek, is also slated to return, after the duo went 25-3 in doubles contests together last year.

Additional key returners in singles play for the Spartans include Dughi (15-10 in singles play in 2015-16), senior Kevin Dong (14-11 in singles play in 2015-16), and sophomore Rob Stroup (16-17 in singles play in 2015-16).  Adding depth in doubles play will be sophomores John Benedetto and David Zakhodin, who went 11-4 as a duo last season, anchoring the third-doubles role for CWRU.  Other Spartan veterans looking to make an impact on the deep lineup include seniors Adam Collins and Fred Daum, and sophomore Oludayo Areke.

Meanwhile the presence of the Spartans' freshman class is expected to be felt on the roster.  After a strong fall, Rajupet is expected to be a top-of-the-lineup player for CWRU, with Concannon and Kanam also capable of bolstering the lineup this season.  Meanwhile, Zach Hennessey, Rohith Koneru, Rajeev Laungani and Henry Squire each have a chance to contribute to the team's success in the upcoming season.

"A lot stands out to me in the way of passion and energy," said Wojtkowski on his team's preparation for the season.  "We practice every day at 6:00 a.m. a mile away from campus and you would never know that it is that early.  The energy is incredibly high and the practices seem to feel like they are lasting 20 minutes by the time we hit the 90 minute mark."

As is usually the case, the Spartans' schedule for 2017 will be challenging, with 10 games scheduled against nationally-ranked opponents, and the opportunity to play additional ranked teams at the UAA Championships in late April.  After opening the season this weekend, Case Western Reserve will host the 2017 ITA Indoor National Championships at the Cleveland Racquet Club in Pepper Pike, Ohio for the second-straight season, with a draw featuring eight of the top 14 teams in the country.  CWRU will open play at the event against seventh-ranked Carnegie Mellon.

The Spartans will also take part in the Stag-Hen Invite, hosted by Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in Claremont, California from Tuesday, March 14th to Wednesday, March 15th, a tournament that typically attracts many of the top Division III teams in the country.  Following the Stag-Hen, the Spartans will return home to Ohio for a weekend matchup in Gambier, Ohio, where CWRU will have a rematch against 11th-ranked Kenyon, the team that topped CWRU in the round of 16 of last year's NCAA Championships, on March 25th.  The Spartans will take on 32nd-ranked Lewis & Clark College the following day in Gambier.

The Spartans will start April with a stretch of five of their first six matches during the month at home, before heading to Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs, Florida for the 2017 UAA Championships from Friday, April 21st through Sunday, April 23rd.  With an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships on the line, the conference tournament is likely to have a heavy impact on the Spartans' postseason chances.

"Our team goal is to win a championship," said Wojtkowski.  "Typically, winning our conference is just as difficult as winning the national championship, five of the top eight teams in the nation play in the UAA.  We also want to peak in May.  This means that our goal is to keep improving each week through the spring."

First up for the Spartans, however, will be their three matches this weekend.  On Friday, the team will take on the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, ranked 12th in the Central Region.  The Fightin' Engineers, who went 20-7 last season, opened their 2017 campaign with a win at Principia last Saturday, and were picked to win their third-straight HCAC Championship in the coach's preseason poll.

Wabash is currently ranked 15th in the Central Region.  The Little Giants have opened their season with a 2-2 record, including back-to-back losses to 40th-ranked Oberlin and 11th-ranked Kenyon last weekend, after going 18-15 in 2016.  Live results of the match are available at http://wabash_ftp.sidearmsports.com/custompages/tennis/statistics/live/xlive.htm.

Monmouth is 1-1 on the season, with a loss to Augustana and a win against Edgewood.  The Fighting Scots are coming off a 10-10 campaign last season.

Full results from each match will be posted to athletics.case.edu following the completion of competition each day.  In addition, fans can follow the action with twitter updates on the team's official twitter account @casetennis1.