Not too many people are able to make something out of nothing. And in the world of sports, taking a team from Cellar Dweller to Championship Row is an even more unfeasible feat.
But maybe someone forgot to tell the men’s tennis team prior to its 2006 campaign.
Although the team’s season didn’t result in an Atlantic Ten Conference Championship, the Owls have no reason to hang their heads.
In one of the biggest turnarounds in school history, the Owls, who totaled all of three victories last season, finished the year 17-8 overall and made an impressive run in the A-10 tournament last weekend.
They finished 7-2 in conference play and remained undefeated until suffering a loss late in the regular season to A-10 foe Xavier, dashing hopes of going undefeated in the A-10.
The fifth-seeded Owls strung together a 3-1 record at the Championships, losing to No. 1 seed Charlotte on Saturday in a hard-fought semifinal match.
The Owls, however, were able to regroup to defeat seventh-seeded Dayton to secure third place in the tournament. Their third-place finish was the school’s highest finish in the tournament since 2000, when the Owls finished second.
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, first-year coach Steve Mauro arrived at Temple with winning as his No. 1 priority. But he did not arrive here alone. With him, Mauro created a squad that meshed well. He had nine new student-athletes, including three transfer students with collegiate playing experience, and only three leftovers from the previous year’s team.
Among those transfers were sophomore Philip Gegenheimer and senior Milan Juricka, who played a major role in the team’s overall success this season, each posting 23 singles-match victories. Juricka, a transfer from Norfolk State, put up solid numbers in his final season of competition.
The former captain of the Spartans and All-Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference First-Teamer in 2005, Juricka wasn’t exactly the Owls’ No. 1 singles player or their No. 2 man. But his 23 victories on the season were a career high.
Gegenheimer’s performance served as a sign of what the future could mean for the team. Only a sophomore, the California-Riverside transfer posted a 23-8 record in his first season at Temple and was instrumental in helping the Owls to a number of doubles victories throughout the year. With Juricka and fellow seniors and key contributors Daniel Davis and Jon Sy on their way out, Gegenheimer will need to lead this team for the next few years.
But players can only do so much.
The most intriguing part of the club’s resurgence was Mauro’s ability to find the right team chemistry. In previous seasons under former coach Bill Hoehne, players were said to have been a part of a loose ship. Practices often lacked guidance and the Owls were unable to really get a feel for each other and their capabilities.
Earlier this season, Davis said that the team’s new style of practicing and operating played a big role in the turnaround.
“Last year our coach was dealing with some personal problems with his job and he really couldn’t show up to practice as much. This year the practicing and scheduling of matches are better.”
This season Mauro implemented a much more up-tempo pace that was geared toward the upcoming opponent. He made the players work on individual drills and other things that helped them perform better in matches and make them better overall players.
The work ethic showed several times over the course of the regular season, as well as during postseason play, as the Owls fought back to notch several come-from-behind victories this season.
In the A-10 tournament quarterfinal round against Saint Bonaventure, the Owls fell behind 2-0 after being swept in doubles and losing the first singles match of the event. Two single matches and two subsequent Temple victories by Juricka and Daniels tied the match.
Gegenheimer fought back to win his singles match after being down 3-0 in the final set. Freshman Eduardo Saavedra closed the match with a win to account for the Owls’ final point.
Though it eluded them this year, the Owls, with Mauro’s potion, have the skill to earn that elusive A-10 Championship.
Jeremy Drummond can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.