Before Steve Mauro took over as the men’s tennis coach last season, high expectations were somewhat of an afterthought.
This year’s squad may not have the liberty of staying under the radar for much longer.
With a slew of transfers and one season under Mauro’s belt, the coach and players both said they are primed to compete for the Atlantic Ten Conference Championship.
“Last year I started from scratch,” Mauro said. “I only had two players from the previous team. This year I have some established players coming back. I am looking forward to the season. I think we are going to be really strong.”
The team finished with a 17-8 overall record last season, including a 4-1 mark in the A-10. Although the No. 1 spot lacked the productivity that Mauro would have liked – a combined 9-15 (.375) record – spots two through six combined for an 83-31 (.728) record.
Mauro said he has solidified the No. 1 spot with sophomore transfer Nathan Spunda. A native of the Netherlands, Spunda spent last season at Division II Lees-McRae in Banner Elk, N.C.
“My former college was quite small, located in a little village, and to come here to Philadelphia, which is huge, I had to make some adjustments,” Spunda said. “But so, far it is going good.”
Mauro said the lefty has an all-around game, with the ability to get his racket on almost any shot. Spunda’s combination of shot-making should allow him to become the top player the Owls have lacked over recent years, Mauro said.
“We play individual tournaments [in the fall season], so you cannot say win as a team,” Spunda said. “I just want to perform well [and] play solid, decent tennis at my own level. I haven’t played Division I tennis yet, so I don’t know what to expect. I am just going to have to see and wait and play my own tennis.”
Spunda is currently nursing an injured right thumb which limits how hard he can practice.
“I can’t play decent tennis with one hand, so first, I have to get that fixed,” he said.
Captain Matt Struble holds the second spot, behind Spunda. The senior compiled a 28-27 record in singles and doubles competition last year.
“I want to win all my matches I can – singles and doubles – and make sure our team gets all of the matches that we can,” Struble said.
Struble said the addition of three transfers – Gonzalo Devilla, Palvos Stephenides and Spunda – will most likely bring success much quicker than a group of unseasoned underclassmen could.
“[The transition] is hard on freshman sometimes,” Struble said, “so transfers already have experience, which is good.[Chemistry] just kind of happens from practice. It happens naturally.”
Another transfer, Joe Mirabile, recently left Pennsylvania, but is awaiting clearance from the NCAA to join the Owls.
Senior Daniel Davis, juniors Phil Gegenheimer, Zach Tobias, and Kris Celtnieks and sophomores Eduardo Saavedra and Rob Spencer round out the roster.
The days when other programs would refrain from scheduling Temple for non-league matches are gone. Aided by last season’s success, the Owls will host Delaware and travel to North Carolina, South Carolina and Cornell.
“Scheduling will be easier [in the future], especially because we had a successful season last year,” Mauro said. “Now everyone wants to play us, where in the past no one wanted to play us.
“Our goal is to finish above .500. We have a very tough schedule. We play some of the toughest teams in the country.
“Our No. 1 goal is to win the [A-10] and play in the NCAA Tournament at [the University of Georgia].”
Kevin Maloney can be reached at email@example.com.