Jan. 24, 2005
By Roland Hu, USD Media Relations
After guiding the University of San Diego into the NCAA Tournament and a second place finish at the West Coast Conference Championships in 2004, head coach Tom Hagedorn expects another successful campaign from his squad when the tennis season kicks off against Brigham Young University on January 28. Coming off of a 13-8 year, the Toreros are looking to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season, a first in school history and with the talent and experience on the roster, anything less would be a disappointment.
Sporting a ranking of No. 42 in the preseason national polls, San Diego returns seven letterwinners to give Hagedorn one of his most experienced teams since arriving at Alcalá Park. The depth San Diego possesses this year will make it difficult for Hagedorn to settle on a permanent hierarchy in singles play, although junior Pierrick Ysern has unquestionably separated himself from the rest of the pack and will assume the No. 1 position. Coming off of a spectacular Fall Season where he reached the quarterfinals of the ITA Intercollegiate Indoor Championships and the semifinals of the Icy Hot/ITA All-American Championships, the native of Paris, France is currently No. 5 in the national preseason rankings. The trio of senior Nic Beuque and Robbie Blair, and junior Mirza Koristovic will provide Ysern with quality back-up in the singles line-up and they will battle each other for the remaining top spots. Hagedorn also believes that doubles play will be instrumental to the overall success of his squad, though the only team that has been determined is Ysern and Beuque, who are ranked No. 51 in the nation. The significance of having four seasoned veterans in the line-up is not lost on Hagedorn and he anticipates big things from his upperclassmen.
"We've got an experienced team that has been to war. They know what they have to do to take it to the next level," commented Hagedorn. "They are not surprised or blindsided or caught off-guard by any kind of situation that is presented because they have been there... this is a team that can do great things."
In addition, Hagedorn will look to two freshmen with tons of international experience to challenge for a spot in the starting line-up. Kenneth Prajoga, a native of Melbourne, Australia, is a mechanically sound player who can hit a heavy ball off of both sides. Thomas Liversage hails from Johannesburg, South Africa and has the physical goods to make it at the collegiate level. While the freshmen show promise with their early play, Hagedorn is cautious when asked to predict their immediate impact.
"You won't see either one of them play their true tennis until three days to two weeks from now," said Hagedorn. "It's a new environment, new coaches, a team atmosphere... it's a lot to digest."
To test his team's talent and experience, Hagedorn has put together a schedule that is considered one of the toughest in the country, including match-ups with 10 Top 50 opponents. The highlight of San Diego's season is a three-game road swing up the California Coast, as the Toreros will take on preseason No. 7 Stanford, No. 28 California, and No. 2 UCLA. Although playing such a competitive schedule would appear to be an overwhelming and daunting task, Hagedorn is confident that his team is up to the challenge and understands the rewards that come with competing against the nation's best on a yearly basis.
"Scheduling is huge. You can't be afraid to play the good teams. It helps on a few fronts," explained Hagedorn. "One is obviously recruiting. If you don't play a good schedule, you're not going to get good players. More importantly, if you have a good team, they need opportunities [to play the top teams]... if you feel like you have the talent, you have to have that brutal schedule to... get some good wins."
Hagedorn also believes it is beneficial to schedule top-ranked opponents because it helps foster a team atmosphere among his players. Facing a tough team every week will force each player to focus on winning his own match rather than worry about where he ranks on the singles ladder, effectively building a more cohesive unit among teammates.
"We've got pretty good chemistry. The key thing is that if you are playing good teams, as long as they are being challenged, that's the main thing," revealed Hagedorn. "That's the good thing about having a tough schedule: no matter what spot you are playing in, you'll be challenged."
The abilities and potential of the San Diego Toreros is undeniable and as a result, they are aiming high for the 2005 season.
"We've got a few goals [this season]. One is to be undefeated at home," stated Hagedorn. "The second is to get to the Round of 16 in the NCAA's. I think they are [attainable goals]."
Leading the way for San Diego this year are a group of upperclassmen who have shown over the years that they can come through in the clutch when necessary. As the highest ranked player on the team, junior Pierrick Ysern will naturally assume a leadership position. In addition to his Fall success, the junior has earned many accolades over his career at San Diego. As a freshman and sophomore, he was named to the All-WCC Singles Team and finished 83rd in the nation last year. Ysern is physically gifted and with his perfectionist attitude, there aren't many players in the NCAA that will beat him this year.
"He's got world-class foot speed, world-class hands, and physically can compete with anyone," said Hagedorn. "He's a great closer, he can serve-and-volley, and he is a lefty, which is a built-in advantage. He's got everything going for him."
Positions two through four will be difficult for Hagedorn to determine because he has three excellent players on his roster who are of equal talent. Seniors Nic Beuque and Robbie Blair and junior Mirza Koristovic will all vie for playing time, though their location on the singles ladder is still uncertain, as all three are strong players with different strengths. Last year, Blair occupied mainly the No. 2 and No. 4 spots last year and earned a place on the All-WCC Singles Honorable Mention Team and will look to continue his success this season.
"Robbie is a hard worker and he's just a solid player... He is very solid off of both sides, he's got a good serve and a good return and when he's zoned in and playing his game, he's an awesome player," said Hagedorn. "One of his biggest strengths is his mental game. He's always been very solid mentally and is a great competitor."
Nic Beuque has established himself as one of the most versatile players on the team throughout his three years as a Torero. Not only is he an accomplished singles player, but he is also a great doubles player, finishing last year ranked No. 42 in the country with Jason Pongsrikul. The duo was also selected to the All-WCC Doubles Team.
"Beuque is very talented and has come a long way to becoming a consistent competitor," asserted Hagedorn. "Physically, he's always had the skills... He's made big strides with his consistency the last two semesters. He's a very solid player.
Mirza Koristovic, otherwise known as the "Oslo Express," enters his third year at San Diego with the ability to make a tremendous impact for Hagedorn. A starter at the No. 5 spot for much of his career, Koristovic will be looking to utilize his all-court game to position himself in the upper half of the line-up.
"Mirza is physically very talented. He's matured a lot and grown up. He's become a great competitor; he wasn't always," stated Hagedorn. "He has an all-court game, good forehand, good backhand, and can come in. He's also got a big-time serve. When he is playing well, he's just bombing serves."
The bottom half of the singles ladder will be up for grabs and Hagedorn expects that it will be a dogfight for the remaining two slots. Among the contenders are juniors Oscar Plotnik and Michael Meschede, sophomore Matt Ozurovich, and freshmen Sammy Atri, Kenneth Prajoga, and Thomas Liversage. Plotnik can be counted on for both singles and doubles, but more importantly, will provide the necessary emotional spark that will fuel the team.
"[Oscar] brings great energy. When he competes, he wears all of his emotions right on his sleeve and in a team atmosphere, that is so important. He loves to compete."
Meschede will use his experience as a junior this year to impart leadership this year. His two big weapons, a booming serve and a vicious forehand, will work in his favor as he battles for a spot in the starting line-up.
"Mike's got an explosive game... The thing he needs to do to get better is to increase his foot speed area," declared Hagedorn. "But he's a good doubles player and he's got weapons. When he's playing well, he can blow people off the court with his serve and forehand."
Ozurovich will begin his sophomore campaign with valuable playing experience, after compiling a 3-1 record in dual play at the No. 5 and 6 spots. He is an athlete that has grown and matured and will continue to do so this season.
"Matt is a guy who has the physical skills to play at any level and he has become more consistent. He's still working on becoming a more solid player day-in and day-out. He's made big strides."
Hagedorn sees a lot of potential with Atri and like many players who first step onto the collegiate scene, he will need to add more muscle to his frame and increase his foot speed.
"He is the most improved player from the fall. He's still got ways to go in order to get into the line-up, but if he keeps on making the strides that he made in the fall, he'll play at some point," said Hagedorn. "He is fairly consistent, but he needs to develop more of a weapon. He really just needs to get stronger and quicker."
Prajoga and Liversage may be young and new to the collegiate scene, but both bring polished games to San Diego and will make an impact by the time their Torero careers are over.
"[Prajoga is] talented and solid off of both sides. All of his game is mechanically sound and he hits a really heavy ball off of both sides," described Hagedorn. "[Liversage] is physically impressive. Seems to have a good head on his shoulders for a freshman. Pretty solid off of both sides and he's got a good tennis body. I think he's going to be good."
Despite losing All-WCC Doubles selection Jason Pongsrikul to graduation, San Diego still has a solid crop of players to be competitive in doubles. The Toreros will look to the athletic tandem of Pierrick Ysern and Nic Beuque for leadership, as they have posted good results early in the season. During the fall, the two reached the quarterfinals of the ITA Western Championships and as a result, are ranked 51st in the country.
"They are a team that has the physical skills to compete with anyone in the nation... Right now, I have them penciled in to play No. 1," said Hagedorn. "They both can volley well, they both can hold serve, and they both are great closers."
The remaining doubles teams are less certain and are likely to change throughout the year because Hagedorn has the luxury of choosing from so many capable players. Hagedorn looks forward to the task of finding players who will work well together and be successful out on the court. There are a variety of components that go into deciding a competitive partnership and it will be a challenge this season to find the right combinations.
"There are a lot of factors that we use to determine our doubles team. Number one is compatibility. They've got to like each other. A lot of times, you have two guys who you think will be great together, but they just don't click," states Hagedorn. "There's also their style of plays, how aggressive they are, just a lot of other factors.... Whether it is injury or a team hits the skids, usually, at some point [in the season] you are juggling. You just never know what's going to happen."
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