March looms mightily in the distance. Everyone is maddening up for tournament trash-talk and bracket-building. I say everyone. That obviously excludes Jamie Dixon’s men, who are far from reaching the bubble this season despite snapping their six-game skid against Kansas State. Coach Raegan Pebley’s lady hoopers fell to the second-ranked lady Bears last week in Waco before quickly rebounding for their season sweep of Iowa State on Sunday in Funkytown. Our gals are knocking on the proverbial door of a national ranking and are essentially 26th in the land as the team receiving the most votes but falling short of that coveted tiny number next to their logo. With the fates of the mens and ladies seemingly solidified, it’s as good a time as any to look to other courts for action.
Collegiate tennis doesn’t receive much attention compared to headliner sports. In case you aren’t aware, the TCU men’s team is a powerhouse nestled behind the Greek Village and across the street from Amon G. Carter Stadium. Team season, which is full speed ahead now, includes lineups featuring six players ranked on a ladder competing in nine matches for seven available points. The first team to four points takes the match. Three doubles match-ups begin each dual match in a six-game one-set format. Whichever team notches two of the doubles meetings takes one point on the scoreboard and singles play can begin. Each team’s top player faces his opposing position in a six-game best-two-out-of-three set format. If a team reaches four points while matches remain in progress, the unfinished contests are suspended, and the match is over. This makes 4-3 wins a nailbiting affair in which all eyes are fixed on two warriors whose result will decide their team’s fates. Coach David Roditi, a legendary former player at TCU, took the head job in 2012 and has built a consistently dangerous lineup with his racketers finishing their season ranked 10th or higher in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings for the last five consecutive years.
Roditi’s purple volleyers own a 5-4 record on the season as they return from the ITA indoor championships in Madison, Wisconsin last weekend. That might seem a meager start from a team I just hailed as dominant, but you can liken TCU’s schedule to an SEC East football team who chose to play Clemson and Ohio State for their non-conference selections. North Carolina and the University of Southern California, two of our boys’ losses, each held the top ITA ranking when they played the Frogs. A loss against currently 13th-ranked Michigan and another against former national champion Virginia round out the bad news thus far. In a positive sense, our sensational six knocked off 10th-ranked NC State and the sixth-ranked Aggies from College Station on back-to-back days without dropping a match last weekend. Roditi’s lineup is different from recent years. Our coach can’t rely on one stud for a guaranteed singles win at the first line – a luxury that Top Five ranked players such as Alex Rybakov and current 60th-ranked professional Cameron Norrie provided in the past. The sacrifice of one ace might provide more depth at the middle lines, an area in which this team has struggled with during late stages of the NCAA championships in the past. Fresh-faced froshes Tadeas Paroulek of the Czech Republic and Jacob Fearnley of Scotland are making their presence feared at first- and second-line doubles and third- and fourth-line singles, respectively. Juniors Alastair Gray and Bertus Kruger are the old men on this ladder and occupy first- and fifth-line singles. Sophomores Sander Jong and Luc Fomba hold down sixth- and second-line singles. The doubles duo of Gray and Fearnley hold the highest ranking on the team at 34th best in the country. Gray follows them with a 55th singles rating nationally.
The 11th-ranked racket Frogs visit SMU this weekend and enjoy a slight reprieve from their high-powered opponents before ramping things up against Stanford at the beginning of March. Keep your eyes on this more balanced version of the Frogs as they move into their outdoor season ahead of conference play. Roditi regularly entices home fans with free pizza and tacos to beef up court advantage. There’s no easier way to feel classy while shoving free food in your face.