MEN'S AND WOMEN'S TENNIS PREVIEW

After a successful 2016 season, the VCU tennis program looks to build towards even greater goals in 2017. Both programs reached the Atlantic 10 championship round last year, with the women's team capturing the league crown.

The women's team, led by Head Coach Paul Kostin and Assistant Coach Monica Sgritta, look to continue their dominance in conference play. The Rams are chasing their sixth consecutive conference title. The Rams have won all four A-10 titles since joining the league prior to the 2012-13 season.

With six total underclassmen, the Rams will sport a young, yet talented group. The Black and Gold will return three players who earned 2016 Atlantic 10 Second Team honors which include senior Darya Berezhnaya as well as sophomores Madga Aubets, Janina Braun and Anna Rasmussen. After a dominant rookie campaign that consisted of an 18-9 record, Rasmussen was named the A-10 Rookie Performer of the Year.

With their recent success, there is no question that the Black and Gold has a target on their back but Kostin believes that the team is ready for the upcoming competition.

"We are the four-time defending champs, staying healthy is going to be important again this year as we play a tough schedule. The girls are ready for the challenge," Kostin said.

The Rams will kick off their season on Saturday Jan. 22 at 11 a.m. as they travel to University Park, Pennsylvania to face the Nittany Lions of Penn State.

On the men's side, 2017 marks the 27th season with Kostin at the helm of the program. Returning alongside him is Assistant Coach Houston Barrick, who is in his fourth season with the Rams.

This years' squad features a well-balanced team with seven returning players, four of whom are upperclassmen. Senior Daryl Monfils will look to build on a great 2016 season in which he finished with a career-best 17-6 singles record. Classmate Jacob Svensson will also provide the Black and Gold with valuable leadership.

"I think we have two great leaders for our team this year. Marten and Daryl have been around for a while now, and both have leadership experience. I hold these guys to a very high standard, and they have worked extremely hard throughout the fall. I am expecting big things from these two," Barrick said.

VCU returns a strong sophomore class as well. Vitor Lima, Philip Mobius and Arvid Noren concluded their freshman campaign with a combined 41-31 overall record in singles play. Coach Barrick has set high expectations for the returning players.

"This is a big year for our three sophomores [Lima, Mobius, and Noren]. Last year, they had the typical highs and lows of freshmen, but now its time for them to go out and show how good they can be. Vitor played No. 2 for us last year as a freshman so the expectation levels are high for him. Both Arvid and Philip had a solid year last year. I am very excited to see how good those two can be this year," Barrick said.

The men will start their season this weekend as they host the VCU 4-1 Invitational at Thalhimer Tennis Center. VCU will face Howard on Friday, Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. followed by a match against Morgan State at 6 p.m.