After a bounce back 2017 campaign, the Penn State Altoona men's tennis team is hoping to carry that momentum into the 2018 season.
Last spring, the Lions posted a 7-5 overall record – a four-win improvement from the previous season. The team finished 3-2 in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference and reached the semifinal round of the conference postseason tournament. This year, with a strong core of returners, Penn State Altoona is poised to build off of last season's success.
Senior Thomas Graden (Hummelstown, PA/Lower Dauphin), junior Jonathan D'Arcy (Doylestown, PA/Central Bucks West), and sophomores Jake Colledge (Altoona, PA/Altoona), Andrew Ung (Upper Chichester, PA/Chichester), and Tao Yang (Emporium, PA/Cameron County) are all back from last year's squad.
Colledge is the Lions' returning No. 1 player. In 2017, he posted a 5-6 overall record in the No. 1 singles spot while going 4-7 overall in the top doubles flight. D'Arcy had three total singles wins in the No. 2 and No. 3 singles slots while compiling a 6-6 overall record between the No. 1 and No. 2 doubles spots. Graden is coming off of his best season of collegiate tennis, as he posted a team-best 7-4 overall singles record while playing in the No. 3 and No. 4 matches, and he was also 5-7 while appearing in all three doubles spots. Yang was a first team All-AMCC selection in the No. 6 singles slot, where he compiled a 4-2 overall record that included a perfect 3-0 mark against AMCC opponents. Ung, who went 1-2 in No. 3 doubles last spring, rounds out the group of returners.
Head coach Doug Simmons, who is entering his sixth year leading the Penn State Altoona men's tennis program, plans to lean heavily on these five players.
"I am expecting a lot from my returners. Jake, Jon, Tao, and Tommy will all be expected to fill spots in our starting lineup," said Simmons. "Jake is still our projected No. 1 player and is always going to be great. Jon is capable of playing anywhere from two to six, as long as he stays mentally strong. Tommy has looked great in practice thus far, Tao has improved a great deal from last year and will make the top six this season, and Andrew could also see time, as he has improved a lot, as well. I've been pleased with our returners."
Rounding out Penn State Altoona's roster are four first-year players: Parag Dharbhamulla (Johnstown, PA/Westmont Hilltop), Logan Kyle (Reedsville, PA/Mifflin County), Christopher Pridgen (Collins, MS/Laurel), and Tyler Smolko (Loretto, PA/Penn Cambria).
"Parag is a dynamic player who could play as high as No. 1 singles. Logan also has the potential to make my starting lineup, as he played No. 1 singles at Mifflin County," Simmons explained. "Chris and Tyler add some nice depth to our team."
To take the next step in the right direction this season, Simmons knows that his team will need to play more consistently than last year and keep the mistakes to a minimum – especially when going up against some of the top competitors in the AMCC.
"Doubles will be crucial, and we will need to steal some wins at No. 3 doubles. We also need to limit our mistakes and compete at a high level," Simmons said. "Jake and Parag will have to beat some really tough competition, and Tommy and Jon will be essential to our success, as well."
Penn State Altoona men's tennis opens its 2018 schedule on Saturday, February 24 with a home match against non-conference opponent Geneva College at 11:00 a.m. at The Summit Tennis & Athletic Club. Other non-conference matches include home dates against Juniata College (Wednesday, March 14), Saint Vincent College (Saturday, March 24), and Waynesburg University (Wednesday, April 18), as well as away matches at Washington & Jefferson College (Friday, March 30), Frostburg State University (Sunday, April 8), and Susquehanna University (Sunday, April 15).
The Lions' AMCC schedule gets underway on Saturday, March 17 when the team travels to take on Pitt-Bradford. The conference slate of matches continues against Pitt-Greensburg (Sunday, March 18), Mount Aloysius College (Friday, March 23), Penn State Behrend (Sunday, March 25), and Franciscan University (Saturday, April 14).
Simmons points to his team's matches against Behrend and Franciscan, both of whom are consistently among the top men's tennis teams in the AMCC, as being of particular significance this year.
"Franciscan and Behrend will be tough to beat, but if we play smart and consistently, we have a chance," said Simmons. "I think we should finish in the top of the conference."