The men’s tennis team made one last stop at Villanova Tuesday in preparation for the upcoming Atlantic Ten Tournament.
The Owls came into the match-up having won three of their last four contests. A win would have put the team at .500 for the season.
But Temple’s misfortunes continued, as the Owls fell to ‘Nova, 6-1, at the Villanova Tennis Complex.
Junior Yhonny Murray picked up the Owls’ lone point, defeating the Wildcats’ John Toppel in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, at the number two singles position.
Temple’s first doubles, Murray and Tyler Wynne, notched Temple’s only other win, 8-6, moving their season record to an impressive 12-2.
Temple’s second and third-doubles lost 8-6 and 8-5, respectively.
A clearly irate coach Bill Hoehne gathered his fledglings before the singles matches began to give them, among other things, a pep talk.
“[I gave them a] spark to get them going,” Hoehne said.
Hoehne was worried that recent performances would take them on an ego trip, and he wanted to correct the problem before it got any more out of hand.
“Just because you’ve won a few games doesn’t mean it’s gonna come easy,” Hoehne explained. “I think they’ve got to keep fighting and not give away so many opportunities.”
Wynne, the Owls’ No.1 singles player, lost in three sets. Matt Struble, Elad Ziv, Jon Sy and James Logan all lost their singles matches in straight sets.
“It’s just wasn’t our day today,” said Ziv, who lost his match 6-1, 6-2.
Struble felt the same way after losing 6-0, 6-1 to Ricardo Baraldi.
“He was just hitting good shots,” Struble said. “I didn’t have anything today to beat him. I played real bad, he played real good.”
Despite getting trounced, it was evident that both teams had a lot of respect for each other. Because of the overwhelming cost of a United States Tennis Association official ($125 per match), every match was judged and scored by the players themselves.
“That’s a considerable amount of money for programs like ours that are on a strict budget,” Hoehne said.
Most players did not seem to mind, as they were accustomed to being a player/ref during the earlier stages of their careers. If any dispute were to arise during a game, coaches from both teams would go to that court and watch for themselves. That was a rare occurrence.
While the atmosphere between the teams was friendly, the weather was not. The blistering cold and howling winds were merciless in their onslaught on the courts, but considering how lousy the weather had been all season, most of the Owls didn’t seem to mind.
Looking to turn things around
The A-10 Championships begin today in Monroeville, Pa., and continues through Saturday. The winner of the tournament will earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Championships held in the first week of May.
Temple finished the regular season with a mark of 3-5. The tournament rankings had not been determined by press time.
Things could have been a lot worse after the Owls began the season on a three-game skid, losing to Lehigh, 6-1, Swarthmore, 5-2, and George Washington, 7-0.
After suffering their third straight loss, the Owls took a trip to Hilton Head, S.C., over spring break to regroup. Usually, the team would play between 3-5 matches, but this year Hoehne decided that serious matches would not help the team’s dismal situation.
“This year, I just felt that we were lacking [something],” Hoehne said.
Activities included running on the beach and weight training, as well as practice matches. Hoehne also said that the bonding during the week brought more unity to the team, which he felt was important if the Owls were to have success.
Players took advantage of the break in different ways.
“I wasn’t in really good shape here before I left,” Murray said. “I was going to matches and feeling tired after two sets. You can’t do that.”
For Struble, one of two freshmen on the team, being able to practice without having to worry about classes was the most important aspect.
No matter the reason, spring break acted as a catalyst to Temple’s floundering season and propelled it through the next four matches, three of which it won.
“We just worked on specific things . . . and it really showed when we got back,” Hoehne said. “The second half of the season we’ve been playing really well.”
From Recuiting Nightmare to Player of the Week
Wynne’s performance throughout the second half of the season has improved tremendously. As a result, he was recently named A-10 Co-Player of the Week along with Xavier junior J.R. Randall.
Wynne defeated Lasalle’s Ron Gargullo 6-2, 6-4 and won his doubles match with Murray, 8-1, to help the Owls soar past the Explorers 6-1 on March 29.
In each of Temple’s victories, Wynne has won his singles match, and he has only lost one of his doubles matches all season.
Things were not always this good for the marketing major, who did not begin to play tennis until he was 16. Hoehne remembers a time during Wynne’s freshman year when he had doubts.
“I questioned – after the first fall season – if he would really be an asset to the team,” Hoehne said. “I questioned my recruiting.”
Wynne remembered that time as well.
“As far as tennis goes,” Wynne said, “it’s always going to be a struggle your freshman year with the pressure of having to play a sport which is so geared towards individual performance.”
What Hoehne originally saw in Wynne eventually surfaced once he began to mature and gain experience at the college level. Hoehne has appreciated his co-captain’s commitment to the team and the way he sets examples for the underclassmen.
“I think I misjudged him when he first got here,” Hoenhe said. “It’s really worked out well with him.”
Murray, Temple’s other co-captain, has been Wynne’s roommate and friend for the last three years. This is their first season as doubles partners.
“We get along so well,” Murray said. “We’re like brothers.”
Wynne said their friendship hasn’t gotten in the way of their performance on the court.
“Doubles is always difficult,” Wynne said. “As far as me and Yhonny playing together, we never really get mad at each other. We pretty much know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We realize when we’re playing bad, and we realize when we’re playing good. We bring both of our games up to the next level by just working together.”
Wynne did not hear about the conference award until after the match with Villanova. When he found out, he was more surprised than anyone else.
“What did I do to get this award? I don’t know,” Wynne said.
For Wynne to be able to achieve the A-10 award despite a season riddled with difficulty is a mark of integrity and determination. Hoehne believes his recruitment scare will play a vital role in the tennis program’s future success.
“You have to constantly be mentally and physically prepared, and that’s very trying . . . for a student,” he said. “We haven’t had many of those [awards] lately, so that’s exciting for us. It shows the program’s going in the right direction, and he’s a big part of that.”
Steve Papurt can be reached at email@example.com.