January 17, 2011

2011 VCU MEN'S TENNIS PREVIEW: DEEP, TALENTED ROSTER KEY TO RAMS' TITLE DEFENSE

RICHMOND, Va. – Over the past 20 years, Head Coach Paul Kostin has relied on the talents of such All-Americans as Daniel Andersson, Olivier Tauma, Frank Moser, and many others that made up VCU's men's tennis roster.

Last year, Thibaut Charron found himself ranked in the top-25 for much of the season and helped carry the Black & Gold to their 12th CAA Championship in the past 15 years and yet another NCAA Tournament appearance under Kostin.

This spring, Kostin is following a different formula, but the veteran head coach thinks the results can stay the same with a little hard work.

"With losing Thibaut, we have a different roster that is young, but very talented," Kostin said. "I'll definitely lean on guys like Tim [Johannsen] and Filip {Svensson] for leadership, but I really think the talent is spread out with this group. We may not have that top-25 type player, but every guy on this roster has the ability to win a lot of matches."

Senior Tim Johannsen (pictured, right) enjoyed a solid first campaign with the Rams last year, compiling a 14-9 ledger on his way to earning Second-Team All-CAA accolades. After playing in the second or third spot in last year's rotation, the Hohenlockstedt, Germany native will be looked upon to step up and take the top spot this spring.

"Tim's a very talented player with a great work ethic," Kostin said. "I'll look for him to be our leader throughout the spring."

A pair of sophomores, Max Wennakoski and Jaime Vazquez Catoira, will be relied upon to secure the next two spots in the Black & Gold's lineup.

Wennakoski played in the middle of VCU's lineup last spring, but had a tremendous offseason, capped off by a great run in the ITA Indoor Regionals this past fall. He enters the spring season as the only Ram ranked by ITA, slotted 123rd in the country.

"Max possesses a lot of talent, but it's a matter of consistency with him," Kostin said. "Just like most young players, we saw flashes of his potential last year. With him, it's just a matter of staying focused and continuing to work hard."

Vazquez Catoira comes to the Rams after spending last year with SEC power, Ole Miss. Prior to playing for the Rebels, he was ranked in the top-10 in the Spanish Junior rankings and won the doubles title at the Spanish Junior Championships in 2008.

 The La Coruna, Spain native wasn't the only new Ram who was a junior national champion as freshman Antoine Baroz comes to Richmond as the reigning Junior National Champion in Switzerland. He has joined the Rams for the spring semester and is expected to be a force in the middle of VCU's lineup.

"Antoine and Jaime have the potential to be very good players for us," Kostin said. "They have both been impressive early on and give us valuable depth in the middle of our lineup."

Junior Filip Svensson (pictured, left) is the longest tenured Ram and enters his third year in the Black & Gold primed for his best season yet. The Angelholm, Sweden native ripped off an 8-1 mark this past fall, including a perfect 4-0 record at the UVA Fall Classic, with all four victories coming in straight sets. He enters this spring with an all-time record of 41-18 with the Rams.

"Filip's a solid player that has worked very hard in the offseason," Kostin commented. "I know I can count on him to be a leader for this team, both on and off the court."

Behind Svensson is a trio, made up of sophomores Jordan Dyke and Camill Salomon, along with freshman Alejandra Argante.

Salomon posted 13 wins in his first season with the Rams, six of those coming at the No.6 spot. He tallied six wins this past fall, five of which came in straight sets, and looks to be a steady force for VCU this spring.

Dyke missed last year with an ACL injury, but is a hard-working player that gives Kostin plenty of depth at the back end of the lineup.

Argante is the second player to join the Rams over the winter break, coming to Richmond as one of the top-50 junior players in Spain.

"Particularly with this team, it's tough to tell you exactly what the lineup is going to be for each match," Kostin said. "All eight guys are highly-competitive and talented, which in turns gives us a coaching staff a lot of options when it comes to our lineup."

No matter what the lineup is that Kostin runs out, he believes this team can join all of his other squads that reached held the hardware at the end of the spring.

"If our guys stay focused and continue to work hard throughout the spring, I think we have a chance to grow into pretty special team," Kostin said.

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