The Middle Tennessee men’s tennis team is on a mission to get past last year’s disappointing 10-14 season.
Apart from the overall record of the team, Jimmy Borendame and the Blue Raiders are striving to set the bar higher for the future of MTSU tennis this season.
As a team, their mission is to win the conference tournament, win a NCAA tournament matchup, something that has not been done at MTSU in nearly 20 years, and to ultimately come together as a team.
Leading the charge for Middle Tennessee this spring is senior captain Victor Hoang.
Hoang is part of a core group of senior leaders hoping to solidify their careers here at MTSU with strong campaigns in their final season.
He’s originally from Ontario, Canada, and during his high school career at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School, he was ranked in the top 225 in the ITF world rankings.
Hoang also won three ITF world titles, and he was Ontario’s provincial champion three years in a row.
After high school, Victor spent his first two years of college playing at the University of Arkansas. Boasting a 24-17 overall record over his freshman and sophomore campaigns, he was ready to make new waves at MTSU when he transferred here before his junior season.
Hoang went 11-11 in his first season as a Blue Raider, and he played primarily at the No. 4 singles position in 2013.
“In the fall we focused on conditioning such as early morning runs, and built a strong base over the semester,” Hoang spoke about the team’s preparation towards the spring season. “Even in the spring now, we still focus on the runs, maintaining what we built on in the fall. I think it will help us in the long run.”
Another key senior for the Blue Raiders is Ettore Zito. Zito is another out-of-country player from Siracusa, Sicily, and he hopes to improve upon an impressive 2013 campaign despite a disappointing overall team effort.
Ettore started his career at Middle Tennessee with notable freshman and sophomore seasons, tallying 52 wins over those two years and amassing just 11 losses. He’s played primarily the No. 4 position in his freshman season, and he bounced around the top-four in his sophomore year.
“Playing the lower positions in the lineup should be easier, but here it’s not,” Zito said about the pressure he faced during his first two seasons. “The ranked teams you face around the country, they’re all filled with really good players. It doesn’t matter what position you play.”
In his junior season, he finished 13-6 in singles play, including four wins against ranked opponents. He was also pivotal late in the season when the team was shorthanded, winning his match and upsetting No. 60 Central Florida on the road.
During the season, Zito was ranked as high as No. 86 in the ITA singles rankings, and he earned the Tennessee SGA Male Athlete of the Year for his accomplishments.
“This is my fourth year, and the only thing I have always wanted to have is more people at the matches,” Zito said about his time at MTSU. “Once you’re a part of a university you should support it, no matter what it is. I want people there at the matches, it’ll help us reach our goal.”
Coaching the Blue Raiders in his fifth season at the helm is head coach Jimmy Borendame. During his four years at Middle Tennessee, coach Borendame has totaled 61 victories, the third most in program history. After a 7-20 record his first season in Murfreesboro, Borendame and his team finished with records of 19-8 in both the 2011 and 2012 season. The Blue Raiders suffered multiple set backs in 2013, but as a team still rose as high as #32 in the nation rankings.
“We couldn’t catch a break. We started the year with Ben Davis having season-ending wrist surgery, who played #1 all four years here,” Borendame spoke about last season’s misfortunes. “We also had Christoph Lang, a junior, get homesick and pack up and go home to Austria. In the month of October we lost our #1 and #3 players.”
He spoke confidently about his group this season, and he emitted a sense of true belief in what this group can accomplish this season. Borendame says there are multiple possibilities when putting together a lineup for a match.
“We have such good depth, and with such a small roster of eight players,” Borendame spoke about his team. “We’ve got so many matches, so it’ll be good to work everybody into matches, and it’ll hopefully prove to really help us in the spring.”
The Blue Raiders opened their season on Jan. 17, with a home double-header victory over Chattanooga and Murray State. They will take their 4-1 record of the year to Nashville this Friday to take on 25th ranked Vanderbilt, a team led by Gonzales, who is ranked 10th in the nation in singles currently.
Looking ahead to their schedule, the Blue Raiders boast a tough non-conference spread. The Blue Raiders will also face non-conference opponents such as South Carolina, Northwestern, Texas Christian University, Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Central Florida.
“Hopefully our depth will help us get some points,” coach spoke about the non-conference matches. “It’s taken years for me to build the schedule up. You want to play the best competition out there, and we’re eager to rebound and have a big season.”
Overall, the Blue Raider men’s tennis team is a talented, experienced roster. The team is full of seniors trying to go out on top and underclassmen ready to give their all. The schedule is tough, with numerous matchups with non-conference powerhouses and showdowns with in-state foes such as Vanderbilt and Memphis.
The team has a list of goals posted in the tennis office, and it’s a sheet that the players keep in their heads daily.
“I think it’s gonna lead to a special season,” Borendame spoke about the season and the team’s goals. “They’re right there on that board: Win the conference championship and win a round of NCAA’s, which is something that Middle has done only once in school history. The other goals being reaching the top 30 ranking wise in the nation, being a supportive teammate, bringing positive energy, having team unity, winning 70% of the doubles points and being accountable.”
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