After losing four key seniors last year, the young University of Miami men’s tennis team is off to a quick start this season, winning their first two matches. In both matches, the Hurricanes won by scores of 6-1, defeating North Florida on Jan. 21 and Stetson on Jan. 24.
Led by seniors Luigi D’Agord and Josh Cohen, the ‘Canes are ranked No. 11 in the nation and look to build off one of the team’s best seasons in recent years, in which they claimed a share of the regular season ACC title and advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament. It will prove to be a daunting task as four of the squad’s ten players are freshman.
“We have a very young team,” Head Coach Mario Rincon said. “The biggest challenge will be translating the potential talent into winning matches.”
It hasn’t taken long for the freshman to get acclimated, as they claim three of the six singles spots on the team. Newcomer Hector Nieto is 2-0 at the No. 4 slot and fellow freshmen Barnabas Carrega and J.C. Whitner have each picked up a victory at the No. 5 and 6 spots, respectively.
“We are really trying hard to contribute, so we can repeat [as ACC champions],” Whitner said. “We don’t have as much experience, but we have a lot of firepower, and our seniors are as good as anyone in the country.”
It is easy to understand why the Hurricanes are ranked so highly when you look at the success of the careers of their two seniors.
D’Agord, who plays No. 1 singles for the ‘Canes, also teams up with Cohen at the No. 1 doubles spot. D’Agord finished No. 3 in the nation last season and is a major threat to win the NCAA tournament this year.
The Hurricanes have two All-Americans this season with D’Agord and sophomore Daniel Vallverdu. Vallverdu, who plays No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles, won the ACC Freshman of the Year award last season.
“Daniel came in at the right time last year,” Rincon said. “He got on a role and kept winning. He is just a great competitor. He doesn’t back down from anyone, and he is going to give us a lot of wins during his time at UM.”
The Hurricanes will have to play their way through a very tough schedule to match last season’s success. The ACC is arguably the toughest conference in the nation, with Florida State, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and the ‘Canes all in the Top 15.
“UF will probably be our toughest match, mentally, since we are in-state rivals,” Carrega said. “Ability wise, though, Ohio State and UVA will probably be the best teams we face.”
Despite the schedule, Rincon, who was named the ACC Coach of the Year last season, is confident.
“I think that everyone of them contribute to fill the void,” Rincon said. “Not only do we have talented players, but we have great learners, and that can go a long way.”
Zack Loss may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.