‘Confident’ men’s tennis team enters AAC tournament

Temple will be a No. 8 seed in the American Athletic Conference tournament in Dallas.

Junior Alberto Caceres Casas will play in his first American Athletic Conference tournament on Thursday after spending his first two seasons at Division II Armstong State University. | ALEX ST. CLAIR / TTN FILE PHOTO

The men’s tennis team will be a No. 8 seed in the American Athletic Conference tournament, which starts on Thursday in Dallas.

The Owls (12-9, 1-2 The American) will face No. 9 Southern Methodist (9-17, 0-5 The American) in the first round at 10 a.m.

Southern Methodist will face the Owls on its home court, where the Mustangs eight of their nine wins. Freshmen Jan-Simon Vrbsky and Tomas Vaise each won 11 dual matches to lead Southern Methodist in singles. The two also led the Mustangs with 11 doubles wins.

The winner of Thursday’s match will play No. 1 Memphis.

Temple concluded its regular-season conference schedule on Saturday with a match against Memphis, the No. 17 team in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll.

The Tigers (17-4, 5-0 The American) beat Temple, 7-0, to claim their 12th consecutive victory. The team’s win streak ties the second-longest stretch in program history.

Memphis, Tulane and Central Florida are the only teams from The American that are in the ITA poll. The American has seven players ranked in the ITA’s top 125 singles players, including Memphis seniors Ryan Peniston and Andrew Watson.

The American also has four doubles combinations that are ranked in the ITA’s top 90. Peniston and Watson are one of the four combinations.

“It’s going to be a good test for us, but the guys are playing pretty well. We feel confident going into it.”

Temple held the No. 7 seed in last season’s conference tournament and lost to No. 2 seeded Tulane, 4-0, in the quarterfinals. No. 1 South Florida won the 2017 conference championship, 4-1, against No. 3 Central Florida.

The top five seeds from the tournament — South Florida, Tulane, Central Florida, Southern Methodist and Memphis — represented The American in the 2017 NCAA tournament.

Coach Steve Mauro said the strength of The American will challenge Temple in the conference tournament.

“It’s one of the top five conferences in the country for tennis,” Mauro said. “It’s going to be a good test for us, but the guys are playing pretty well. We feel confident going into it.”

The tournament will feature 10 teams with the addition of Wichita State. The Shockers will add more depth to the tournament, having won 24 Missouri Valley Conference tournament titles before leaving for The American.

Temple lost to East Carolina, 5-2, in its first conference match on Feb. 16. The Owls were without senior Thomas Sevel and sophomore Eric Biscoveanu in the match.

The Owls beat Connecticut, 4-1, for their only conference win on March 31. Sevel and junior Uladzimir Dorash missed the match. Sevel missed four matches with an arm injury before returning against Memphis.

Sevel lost to Peniston 6-1, 6-2. Mauro said Sevel did not look his best, but he will progress with time.

“It was nice to get him back,” Mauro said. “I thought he played OK. I thought he played a little rusty, but it’s going to take him some time to get back to his old form.”

The Owls will enter the conference tournament short-handed. Dorash will miss the rest of the season with a pectoral injury. Dorash hasn’t played since March 17.

The conference tournament will be a new experience for a few players, like freshmen Mark Wallner and Michael Haelen.

Junior Alberto Caceres Casas will also play in the postseason conference tournament for the first time. Before joining Temple in Fall 2017, he played two years at Armstrong State University, a Division II school in Savannah, Georgia.

“I’m really excited for the conference tournament,” Caceres Casas said. “I want to see the level of our conference. I want to fight until the last point.”

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