The South Dakota State men's tennis team competes in its first Summit League Championships match on Friday, by virtue of its regular season finale win over Oral Roberts.
The Jacks closed the regular season at 7-13 overall, but 2-3 and fourth place in the conference.
The team, which joined The Summit League in 2007 and is led by first-year head coach Michael Engdahl, is excited for the opportunity to play for its first league title.
"It is very exciting to qualify for the tournament," Engdahl said. "It is definitely the next step forward for our program and our players have worked hard to earn this trip to the Championships. Going into this year we had one win against Summit League opponents and we were projected to finish in last place. I am so proud of the way our team fought all year long and all the things the players overcame. I could not ask for much more in my first year as head coach."
A pair of seniors leads SDSU at No. 1 and No. 2 singles in Justin Pyle and Dominic Rossetto. The duo experienced tough competition at the top of the lineup, but are a big reason for the success this season. The duo also composes the No. 2 doubles team and finished with a .500 record at that position.
"I am very happy for Dom and Justin," said Engdahl. "They put in hours and hours on the tennis court and it is great to see the hard work pay off. They have been leaders this year and carried the task of competing at the top of the lineup, which is difficult. I think every player looks up to them and the way they fight for every point, whether it is in practice or in a match. They have certainly been the energy of the team this year and I am positive they will bring that energy against UMKC on Friday."
In terms of winning percentage, the Jacks are led by freshman Parker Lawley, who posted an 11-7 record at No. 3 this season. Lawley paired with junior James Thorp at No. 1 doubles for a 10-9 mark, also best on the team. Lawley was named The Summit League's Men's Tennis Player of the Week after a 3-0 singles, 2-0 doubles week in Florida.
"Parker's play has been more than expected this season," Engdahl said. "As a freshman, he has competed at No. 3, posted a 10-7 record and competed in every match. Even more impressive has been his demeanor on the court. He is very mature for his age and is a natural competitor. He has a great career ahead of him and it will be fun to watch him play on Friday."
Thorp had his own success at No. 4 singles this season, owning a 12-7 record and going 7-3 in his last 10 matches. Thorp also led the team with three wins against league opponents.
Rounding out the singles lineup is Alejandro Marin at No. 5 and Morgan Salo at No. 6. The two also team up at No. 3 doubles to complete the lineup.
"Tennis is unique in that the No. 6 position counts for the same as the No. 1 position," said Engdahl. "Every player is important and you cannot count on only one player. Many people think of tennis as an individual sport, but there is a strong emphasis on the overall team in college tennis. It not only makes every match count, but you need to have strong depth to be competitive at the Division I level. James is a perfect example of that importance. He is 13-7 at No. 4, which is one of the main reasons we reached the Championships this season."
THE OPPONENT: UMKC
The Jacks square off with UMKC for the second time this
season and the seventh time since joining The Summit League. UMKC is undefeated in the all-time series against
SDSU. In this season's meeting, the 'Roos defeated the Jacks 7-0 in Kansas City, Mo., on April 19.
The Kangaroos earned the regular season title and No. 1 seed
for the third straight season with a 4-1 record in league play.
Although UMKC is a strong team, last season's 4-1 loss and the 'Roos blemished season and conference record open the door for a possible upset.
"The match against UMKC is going to be nothing but exciting," Engdahl said. "It is one of those matches where we have nothing to lose. We are going to focus on playing the match at our tempo and enjoying the grind of every single point. We also know that UMKC's fans may get on us a bit, but we will be focused from the first point. There is no doubt they are the favorite to win the tournament, so the pressure is on them. We just need to go out, play our game and try to shock The Summit League."
As mentioned by Coach Engdahl, another element to overcome is the fact that this is a road match, where the Jacks have struggled to a 3-9 record this season. However, SDSU is 1-1 in Kansas City, Mo., this season, with the win coming in the decisive match against Oral Roberts.
While the road is tough, the most important part is the first step.
And the Jacks took that step with its win last weekend.
"Overall, I could not have asked for a better first year as head coach," said Engdahl. "The players responded to everything the coaching staff asked of them on both the men's and women's side. While it is exciting to make the Championships for the first time in school history, it is even more exciting to know the potential we have this year and in the years to come."
Meet time is set for 2 p.m. on Friday in Kansas City, Mo. The other semifinal is scheduled for the same time and place, but on different courts.