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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The Battalion May 4, 2024

The time is now

Photo by Cody Franklin

Men’s tennis team celebrates after becoming SEC champions. 

The Aggies have never won a men’s tennis national championship. But their time might be coming.

Ranked No. 3 in the nation — the highest ranking in program history — and with A&M head coach Steve Denton at the helm, the team could be poised to make its first appearance in the round of four or a championship in program history.

The Aggies will enter the NCAA tournament as the No. 6 overall seed and will host the first two rounds in College Station. With just under two weeks to prepare for their 22nd straight tournament appearance, the players have the time to ready themselves. 

The NCAA tournament is as big as it gets in college tennis, and many teams allow themselves to work it up to the point that it becomes more of a distraction than a challenge. Back-to-back SEC Coach of the Year Denton said the key to advancing will be to take care of each step in stride, the team did not live up to that philosophy when it failed to go to the national indoors earlier in the year.

“We’re the highest ranked team in the country that didn’t play the national indoors by far,” Denton said. “As a result of that early setback the guys just kind of put their heads down and just kind of grinded it out. That’s what we’ve got to do as we get in a NCAA tournament is have that same mindset, just grinding these matches out one match at a time.” 

Senior Jeremy Efferding has been in this position before, entering the tournament as a top-eight seed at home with hopes of attaining the program’s first championship. Now, he has a new way of thinking as he prepares for the NCAAs.

“Take it one match at a time, one point at a time and I think a trap that a lot of people get into and one that I personally have fallen into in the past is treating it differently — putting more emphasis on it, maybe falling to nerves a little bit more,” Efferding said. “One thing that I have been stressing with Arthur and AJ and Jordi and some of the younger guys is just to play like any regular match, you know, go out there, compete your butt off and represent A&M well. And I think that’s what they’re doing and I think that’s what really helped us win that SEC title.”

Although the Aggies have been present in the tournament for over two decades, they have never advanced to the championship match. The mental side of the tournament will play a big role if they are to change that, Efferding said.

“[Denton] always has told us, ‘Eyes on the prize and your mind tells you lies,’ and so the more we focus on the national title, I mean, we have to get there first. We still have to win six or seven matches,” Efferding said. “Last year we were thinking national title and we lost in the second round hosting to Cal and that was really an eye-opener and a learning experience and that’s something we can’t do this year.”

Playing at outdoor venues during the tournament introduces another challenge for the Aggies — the heat. Due to the conditions the players will face, Denton said the team will use practice time to prepare for the Texas heat. 

“We’re going to play in the heat of the day, in the afternoon and we’re going to pep up our fitness over these next two weeks since we don’t have matches,” Denton said. “They’ve got to get acclimated to being out in this heat and playing a little bit longer and training a little harder and doing some stuff on their own as well.”

As they prepare to enter tournament play, Denton said depth is one of the team’s biggest assets.

“We don’t really have holes in our lineup, we’re capable of winning at every position,” Denton said. “As I stated earlier in the year, I was a little uncertain about where our doubles play would be and it’s certainly been a strength of our team. So I’d say depth and our doubles has really been a key component, and these guys have a great fighting spirit. When you play really big teams you can’t be intimidated by them, you can’t be afraid, you’ve got to go out and compete and play hard and our guys have done a good job of that this season.”

Play begins at 2 p.m. May 8 against Eastern Kentucky.

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