NORMAN – The No. 18 Oklahoma men's tennis team is set to open their 2018 spring season this weekend at the Headington Family Tennis Center. The No. 18 Sooners will face Bryant and Creighton in a doubleheader Saturday followed by a match with Arkansas on Sunday afternoon.
Bryant will battle Creighton on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. CT to kick off the weekend's matches. Following the Bulldogs and Bluejays will be a 11 a.m. showdown between Oklahoma and Bryant. Saturday's matches will finish with OU and Creighton facing off at 2 p.m. The Sooners and Razorbacks will play one match Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. to conclude the weekend.
Free pizza and t-shirts will be available to fans in attendance at Oklahoma's matches this weekend. Saturday fans will be provided free pizza beginning before OU's first match against Bryant at 11 a.m. CT. Sooner fans can snag a free t-shirt during OU's final match of the weekend against Arkansas beginning at 1 p.m. CT on Sunday. All matches throughout the weekend will be played indoors with free admission.
Led by second-year head coach Nick Crowell, the Sooners look to build off another strong run in 2017, finishing with a Sweet 16 appearance at the NCAA Championships. The duo of Spencer Papa and Andrew Harris took home the 2017 NCAA doubles national championship over Georgia's Robert Loeb and Jan Zielinski 6-4, 6-2, 1-0 (6) to earn OU's first-ever individual tennis championship.
"We are really excited to get started and to finally compete as a team," said Crowell. "We have worked extremely hard in the fall and in the preseason and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead for us."
The Sooners return four veterans for the 2018 spring season (seniors Spencer Papa and Mason Bridegan along with junior Aleksandre Bakshi and Ferran Calvo). Papa earned first team All-Big 12 singles honors in 2017 along with second team All-Big 12 doubles honors with former Sooner Andrew Harris. Ferran Calvo comes into the spring ranked No. 17 in the ITA singles rankings after compiling a 22-4 record in the fall. Calvo started the year with a remarkable 17-match winning streak to start the season, including singles titles at the Alabama Four-in-the-Fall and the Racquet Club Collegiate Invitational.
Aleksandre Bakshi compiled a 5-2 record in fall competition, winning his first tournament as a Sooner at the Napa Valley Tennis Classic and also competing in the ITA Central Regional Championships.
Along with the four upperclassmen, OU has five underclassmen who return to the courts for the Sooners. Sophomores Jochen Bertsch and Adrian Oetzbach come into the spring ranked No. 43 in doubles by ITA. Freshman James Davis of Barnstaple, England, is a former No. 1 U16 player in England and had an exceptional fall for the Sooners, going 8-5 in singles competition.
Other freshmen looking to contribute for the Sooners are Stefano Tsorotiotis and Jake Van Emburgh. Van Emburgh opened the fall with seven straight wins, accumulating a 9-3 record in singles and winning his first collegiate title at the Alabama Four-in-the-Fall, claiming the Houndstooth flight title. The Sooners will also welcome Max Stewart of Birmingham, England who signed with the Sooners in May 2017. Stewart joined the roster in January and will be eligible to compete this spring.
The Bulldogs are led by 12th-year head coach Ron Gendron and are looking to win their fifth straight Northeast Conference Championship in 2018. Led by last year's Northeast Conference Player of the Year redshirt junior Matt Kuhar and a trio of seniors the Bulldogs look to earn a fifth straight NCAA Tournament bid in 2018.
Bryant is familiar with the Sooners as it competed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, losing to then No. 14 OU, 4-0, despite taking sets at No. 1 and No. 5 singles.
Creighton is guided by head coach Tom Lilly who is entering his 21st season at the helm of both Creighton's men's and women's tennis programs. Lilly has compiled an astonishing 402 coaching victories during his tenure in both men's and women's tennis. The Bluejays look to bounce back from a 10-11 record in the 2017 season that saw them graduate four seniors.
Key returners include senior Brooks Kendall who led Creighton with 13 singles victories in the spring of 2017 and Alex Koca who concluded the 2017 spring slate with a 12-6 record in doubles play.
Head coach Andy Jackson and the Razorbacks look to build on a solid fall outing with another NCAA Tournament appearance this spring. Coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2001-2002, Arkansas has appeared in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.
The Sooners and Razorbacks have faced off in each of the past two seasons, splitting the matches. Although the Razorbacks lost ITA/UTSA National Indoor Champ Mike Redlicki, they return five players from last season including Jose Salazar who led the team with a 30-9 singles record last season and enters his senior year ranked No. 113 in the ITA singles rankings.
For more information on OU men's tennis, follow the team on Twitter @OU_MTennis.