Sports

Owls prepare for move despite budget and court issues

Tennis enters The American with losing records and weak university support.

Next year, the tennis teams’ makeup will be very much the same.

Only one player – Kacper Rams – is graduating from the men’s team and none are leaving on the women’s team. Steve Mauro, who coaches both teams at Temple, plans to be here next season.

Other than the addition of the 2013 recruiting classes, the teams won’t be much different. However, just about everything else will change.

The teams are moving from the Atlantic 10 Conference to the newly constructed American Athletic Conference. The Owls have not played any of their American counterparts in the last seven years and the on-campus tennis courts may be demolished before next season.

“We knew we were going to a new conference,” Sam Rundle, a freshman on the men’s tennis team, said. “I guess we were unsure of who was going to be in it. The way it’s played out, I think it’s a pretty strong conference, and a lot of good teams.”

There will be 10 teams in The American – all will field a women’s tennis team, but just seven will have a men’s counterpart.

In 2012-13, Temple’s men’s team had the sixth-best regular season record (7-11) of those seven. Only Connecticut (3-9) did worse. The women’s tennis team’s prospects are even lower – all the other schools fared better than the Owls’ 9-13 record. On the men’s and women’s side, UConn (7-9 on the women’s side) was the only school other than Temple with a losing record.

“Because the conference kept changing a lot this year, we didn’t really know who to prepare for,” Mauro said. “From what I can tell now, the conference will be stronger than the [A-10]. The level of competition will definitely be higher.”

Since the 2006-07 season, neither Temple team has played any teams they will be conference opponents with next season. There was a scheduled men’s match versus Rutgers in March 2007, but it was canceled and not rescheduled. Rutgers no longer has a men’s tennis program.

The American will likely be a stronger tennis conference than the old Big East Conference would have been. Only two current Big East men’s teams – No. 31 Notre Dame and No. 48 Louisville – are ranked in the Top 75. Both of those schools are leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The American will also hold No. 32 Memphis, which won the Conference USA tournament this year. In 2014, Tulsa – currently ranked 25th – will join the conference.

“I know that the teams are really good,” sophomore Kristian Marquart said. “We have a very strong conference. A lot of teams are ranked. We are looking forward to competing against them. I don’t think we’re going to be the ones who are supposed to win. That’s fine, we can play without pressure.”

“Some of these schools, like Louisville and Tulsa, they have a strong tradition in tennis,” Mauro said. “They’re fully funded programs, having the most scholarships available. It’s gonna be challenging playing some of these schools.”

The teams still face uncertainty as to where they will play home matches next year. The courts outside the Student Pavilion are set to be demolished as part of the plans to build a new library. Mauro has not been told any specifics on when the courts will be closed.

“I guess that’s up to the administration staff,” Rundle said. “It’s always gonna be the player on the end of the racquet that makes the difference…We’re just trying to focus on playing, I guess. That’ll sort itself out.”

Mauro plans on adding multiple new recruits to each team. He has already signed a player from Indonesia for the women’s team and has his eye on “one or two more.”

“Barring injuries, the two or three new girls we bring in will push everyone down in the lineup,” Mauro said. “We’ll actually be strong one through six.”

Despite the higher level of competition and the unfamiliarity with the teams, the teams are excited to make the move.

“My expectation as a team for next year is to do well in [The American],” junior Alicia Doms said. “I think that if I keep playing in first position, it will be a huge opportunity for me to play with the best players in the nation, so I am very excited.”

Evan Cross can be reached at evan.cross@temple.edu or on Twitter @EvanCross.

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