After a relatively down year last year, the Tennessee men's tennis team is looking to get back to doing what they do best: winning.
Head coach Sam Winterbotham says he thinks he has the team back to their winning ways.
"This team is really close. Everybody steps up when they need to," said Winterbotham. "They've done a good job of holding each other accountable when they need to, regardless of whether you're a freshmen or a senior."
For a team who finished last year with three freshmen as the top three starters, Winterbotham says his upperclassmen take their leadership role seriously.
"We've got a good group of seniors, with John Collins transferring in (from the University of Maryland). He's done a really good job of taking on the leadership role in the group," said Winterbotham. "Taylor (Patrick) and Ed (Jones) definitely have taken on that responsibility as well. I think it's really good. We have the upperclassmen in Jarryd Chaplin and Colton Norton (both juniors) are two guys that are helping out in that regard too."
Unlike last year, when the Volunteers only brought back one starter from the previous year, all six starters will be returning this season. Winterbotham says he thinks experience is an important ingredient in winning.
"Experience is crucial in anything, so we have six guys who have been through it all," said Winterbotham. "More importantly to me, I feel we have six guys who went through the wars last year, they learned from them, and they are actually better players this year."
Two guys who had to step up last year and will have to do the same this season are sophomores Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese. Libietis and Reese ended last season in the top two spots on the team.
Libietis agreed with Winterbotham, saying that getting all six starters back from last year can only mean good things for the team.
"(Returning six starters) is going to help us a lot, especially us three freshmen, (Reese, Libietis, and Brandon Fickey) who started one, two and three last year," said Libietis. "We have a lot more experience this year, and we have John Collins that comes from Maryland and played high in the lineup there so he'll help us out. It's a good feeling to have all six players back."
Reese recently took part in the Wake Forest Spring Invitational in Winston-Salem, N.C. Reese took down four Wake Forest players on his way to claiming the title on Sunday. Reese said winning the title has given him some confidence heading into the team tennis season.
"(Winning the tournament) gives me all sorts of confidence," said Reese. "I hadn't played in a while, competitively, so it was really important for me to get some confidence and get some matches under my belt and really get back in the right mindset for matches."
Winterbotham said this team has the potential to win the SEC and that the team goals never change.
"We want to win National Championships and SEC Championships," he said. "We want to be the best team in the country."
The Vols start their journey toward a National Championship on Thursday at 3 p.m. against Tennessee Tech.