NORMAN – The Oklahoma men's tennis team, fresh off a third consecutive NCAA finals appearance in 2016, debuted at No. 12 in the first Oracle/ITA Collegiate Tennis Rankings of the year, released Thursday.
"We start competing right away here in the next few days, and I know our guys will come out highly motivated,” first-year head coach Nick Crowell said. “Our guys believe in each other and have confidence in themselves. We have a lot of experienced guys on this team that have played at the highest level."
The Sooners return four integral players from their 2016 campaign: seniors Florin Bragusi, Alex Ghilea and Andrew Harris, as well as junior Spencer Papa.
"I know our guys will come out highly motivated. Our guys believe in each other and have confidence in themselves.”
- Head Coach Nick Crowell
Papa, who headlined the fall season for OU with a runner-up finish in singles at the prestigious Southern Intercollegiate Championships in Athens, Ga., begins his 2017 season ranked No. 18 in singles. The ranking is a career high for the heavy-hitting Edmond, Okla., native.
Bragusi joins Papa in the singles poll, sitting at No. 118. Bragusi, the 2015 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, is a combined 25-11 in singles the last two seasons in dual play and has gained a reputation for clutch performances.
“It’s great to see Spencer emerge into the top 20,” Crowell said. “He has worked hard on his game and I’m excited to see him improve this spring. Florin has also had some really big wins in the fall, and he has gotten much stronger and he’s playing bigger. He can be one of the top players in the country this spring."
Harris and Ghilea, two heavily-relied upon seniors, were featured in the Oracle/ITA preseason singles rankings, released in September. Harris, a 2015 All-American and 3-time All-Big 12 selection in singles, began the 2016 fall season as the nation’s No. 24 singles player. Harris will once again be one of the premier players in college tennis in 2017. Ghilea was slotted at No. 40 in the fall poll. 'The Machine', as his teammates lovingly call him, has been a leader and anchor for the Sooners in their past three finals runs. Ghilea led Oklahoma in singles wins a year ago and was named the Most Outstanding Player at the 2015 National Indoor Championships.
Crowell, who arrived in Norman after a successful 13-year spell at Florida State, is bringing in a special group of fresh talent to join the team for the spring season.
Jochen Bertsch and Adrian Oetzbach, of Germany, as well as Arnaud Restifo of Nice, France, will be three welcome additions to OU for the spring slate, along with junior walk-on Mason Bridegan.
Bertsch has been ranked as high as No. 7 in the German junior rankings and is a German national doubles champion. He also won the Baden-Württembergische U16 Youth Championships in 2014. Oetzbach has earned a spot in the main draw of the Belgium F14 Futures and Germany F7 Futures, while Restifo is another highly touted player who reached the round of 16 in September at the Tunisia F31 Futures on the ITF Pro Circuit.
“I’m really excited to get these guys out on the courts and watch them develop over the spring,” Crowell said. “These new guys like to compete and work hard. I know they will contribute right away and have an immediate impact to the program."
Alex Ghilea (left) and Spencer Papa (right) celebrate a doubles win at the 2016 NCAA Championships. The Sooners have advanced to the NCAA finals in each of the last three years.
Oklahoma will have to navigate another tough schedule in 2017. All six Big 12 tennis programs find themselves in this year’s preseason top 25. Texas landed at the No. 4 spot, TCU at No. 7, Oklahoma State at No. 14 and Baylor and Texas Tech at No. 22 and No. 23, respectively. The Big 12 and SEC are the only conferences with six teams in the top 25.
To go along with the five regular season matches against Big 12 foes, the Sooners also have ealry non-conference showdowns at No. 2 Wake Forest (Jan. 21) and No. 19 Arkansas (Feb. 4).
Oklahoma kicks off the 2017 season with a trio of matches starting Jan. 13. The Sooners host Creighton at 6 p.m. CT Friday and then play a double-header on Sunday, Jan. 15, facing Abilene Christian and Omaha at noon and 5 p.m., respectively. As always, admission for regular season home matches is free.