Sports

Owls look to young returners to contribute

The Owls will return all of their players from 2013.

A year after the men’s tennis team finished .500, not much has changed about coach Steve Mauro’s roster.

“We were a young team last year,” Mauro said. “We didn’t graduate anyone, and our better players were all younger, freshman and sophomores. They’re all a year older, and have more experience so I’m hoping that maturity and experience will carry us through [this season].”

Entering the fall, Mauro said his team has been working on fitness, something that becomes more important once the American Athletic Conference tournaments roll around later in the season.

The strength and conditioning team has worked closely with the athletes, providing a program for them to prepare for the season, which starts Tuesday with the team’s first practice.

Two players that had success last fall, juniors Nicolas Paulus and Hicham Belkssir, will look to build off those performances from last year. Paulus finished the fall season with a record of 8-5, winning seven of his last 10 singles matches. Belkssir was even better, compiling a record of 11-4 while winning the sixth singles flight at the Navy Invitational and the singles title at the Princeton/Farnsworth Invitational.

Paulus, who hails from Rheinau, Germany, said there’s one particular area of the game in which he needs to be more aggressive.

“[I’ve worked] on my offensive game, and finishing balls up at the net,” Paulus said. “Because I was playing from the baseline, which was leading to longer rallies.”

Paulus added that playing so far back can end up hurting him in the long run, further stressing the importance of making runs up to the net and putting away the volley at any point in the rally.

Belkssir, who is from Rabat, Morocco, said he has focused on many of the same things, but has also tried to improve another facet of his game.

“I’ve been working on my backhand,” Belkssir said. “The backhand is especially something I can get better at.”

It’s a basic skill, but along with the volley, these are all factors that come into play on hard courts, something that many players on Mauro’s roster have been adjusting to during the past couple of years.

Many tennis players across the globe play on clay, which is a slower surface. Therefore, the Owls have had to adapt to the style of play that concrete demands.

“When [Europeans and South Americans] come to America, all the tournaments are played on hard courts,” Mauro said. “[Adjusting] takes some time, it takes some up to a year.”

Mauro added that this was the case for Belkssir, who played on hard courts his whole life is Morocco. But eventually, the best tennis players play well on any style of court.

“We know they’re all talented,” Mauro said. “We recruit the best player, the best student-athlete we can find. We realize there’s an acclimation period to get used to college tennis in America, but we feel we have a strong coaching staff that will help them with that.”

The Owls return to competition this fall after what was a streaky spring season. Temple started off the season in January and didn’t win a match until Feb. 23 against Fordham at home, losing eight consecutive matches in the interim. The team followed with four straight victories.

After that, it lost another two before finishing the regular season with seven straight wins and subsequently falling in the opening round of the conference tournament to Louisville.

Paulus said although that may stem from the mental aspect of the game, it doesn’t apply to everybody.

“For some of us, it might be a mental thing,” Paulus said. “It’s a matter of confidence, just keep doing what you’re doing, and know that you can do it.”

Of course, being on the right side of the win-loss column helps.

“Once you start losing, you ask yourself questions instead of just playing,” Paulus said. “That’s not good for your game. … When you’re winning, you know what you’re doing is right.”

Mauro’s squad kicks the fall season off at the Navy Invitational in Annapolis, Maryland, on Friday.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at  steve.bohnel@temple.edu and on twitter @SteveSportsGuy1

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