AZUSA, Calif.-- If the 2012 season is any indication of the Azusa Pacific men’s tennis team’s potential for the upcoming season, the Cougars should have no trouble contending for a conference title in their first season in the Pacific West. The team has four of its top-six returners from a squad that reached the semifinals of the NAIA national championships, and welcomes back one of its top players from the 2011 season. Add in a highly coveted freshman recruit, and Azusa Pacific has all the makings of a team that can make a splash in its first season on NCAA Division II play.
“We’re probably going to be as good as we’ve been in the past. It’s always hard to lose two good seniors, but getting Whitman Hough back and adding Jan Meyer is really good. Everyone returning is better than they were last year, and that’s saying a lot,” said head coach Mark Bohren.
Returning First-Team NAIA All-American Jochem Hoefnagels will lead the lineup, entering the season riding a 21-match regular season winning streak. The other key returners include fellow All-Americans Frederik Wilkens and Ben Eger, and Gary Yam. The Cougars boast three of the West Region’s top-5 ranked players in Wilkens, Hoefnagels, and Meyer, each of which are ranked nationally in the ITA NCAA Division II poll.
PROJECTED SINGLES LINEUP
In 2012 Hoefnagels went 21-0 in the regular season playing between No. 1 and No. 2 singles en route to earning All-GSAC and All-American recognition. During the streak Hoefnagels was named NAIA Player of the Week after leading the Cougars to a pair of wins over ranked opponents. In the fall Hoefnagels won the ITA/USTA West Regional, and advanced to the national Division II championships in Mobile, Ala., where he placed fifth. He’s ranked No. 6 in the ITA Division II rankings, and is the No. 1 rated player in the West Region. This year, he’ll play at No. 1, and be relied upon as the senior captain.
“He’s very motivated this year. He wants to win a lot of things, and he’s working hard to reach some of those goals. Most of the time you play best as a senior, and the biggest thing for him, and something that he’s been most successful at, is being prepared mentally each match,” said Bohren. “He’s really pushing the guys to be better, and his work ethic influences the other guys. It’s great when your captain works harder than everyone else.”
Last season Wilkens recorded a 15-9 record in singles action. He went 2-0 at No. 2 singles, where he’ll likely be positioned this season, and earned NAIA All-American honors while being named an NAIA Scholar-Athlete. The junior also boasted one of the team’s top falls, performing well at the ITA regionals, and going further than each of his Cougar counterparts at UCLA. He enters this season as the ITA’s 31st ranked Division II player.
“Freddy had a great offseason. He beat a lot of quality players at ITA, went further than anyone else at UCLA, and just continued to improve. I’m looking for him to have another quality season for us,” said Bohren.
The freshman from Germany is the lone newcomer to a lineup that features as much depth as the program’s had in the past five seasons. A tall, strong, player, he’ll give the roster an added dimension while playing at No. 3 in his first year of collegiate tennis. He’s the 4th rated player in the west, and is ranked No. 20 nationally.
“Jan is probably the most talented freshman that we’ve had in a long time, and that’s saying a lot. We’ve had guys like Janosch Apelt and Hoefnagels make immediate impacts, and I’m expecting the same from Jan,” said Bohren.
Eger, one of the team’s most emotional players, came up big for the Cougars in last year’s postseason. The junior won each of his singles matches in the NAIA championship, including a match-sealing victory in the quarterfinals against Auburn Montgomery (Ala.). He finished with the second most singles wins last year, going 18-5, and closing the season with eight wins in the final nine matches.
“Ben’s really worked on getting better and being one of our leaders. Last year he overcame some injuries and performed well for us. Right now he’s really strong physically and he’s worked himself extremely hard. He’s such a good match player, and we know when he takes the court he’s always going to give it his all,” said Bohren.
Last season Yam quickly made a name for himself with his methodical style. The sophomore clinched numerous wins for the Cougars, including a crunch-time victory over new conference foe Hawai’i Pacific in a five hour, forty-five minute marathon. Yam went 16-5 in his first season at Azusa Pacific, and recorded a 4-0 record in the 5-slot.
“Gary had a great freshman year and knows how to win big matches,” said Bohren. “He really stepped up for us. He works hard, he’s physically strong, and I think he’s primed for a good season.”
Hough missed the 2012 season, but won 18 singles matches during his first three seasons. As one of two seniors in the lineup he’ll be looked to lead the team while he gets acclimated after a season away from the program. Hough figures to play at No. 5 or No. 6, where he holds a 5-8 all-time mark through three seasons, with the rest of his action coming at No. 3 and No. 4 singles in his freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons.
“We’re happy to have him back for his senior year. I’m sure it will take some time for him to get back to where he was, but he’s such an emotional leader for us that I have no worries about it. I know he wants to go out on a high note, and I’m excited to see how he does,” said Bohren.
Daniel Sosnowski, Joseph Remington, and Zach McMahon will all compete for time among a deep, talented roster that features three ranked singles players. Last year McMahon opened the season with a surprise start at No. 1 doubles, teaming with Hoefnagels to post a defeat against Pomona Pitzer. Sosnowski went 2-0 as a freshman, and earned a spot on the nationals roster in 2012.
In 2012 Azusa Pacific went 48-21 in doubles action, and went 20-3 in the No. 1 spot. This year Hoefnagels will return to the top spot, but the rest is still up in the air. The only returning tandem from a season ago is Yam/Wilkens, who put together a 9-4 record after being paired midway through the season. Bohren’s toyed with the idea of pairing Hoefnagels and Meyer at the top, but isn’t set on anything just yet.
“Doubles is completely in the air. I have an idea of where I want certain guys, but we’re still working towards finding the right mix. We have a lot of talented players, and it’s just about finding the ones that best complement each other,” said Bohren.
After winning nine GSAC titles Azusa Pacific is transitioning to the Pacific West Conference, where it’ll face a familiar foe in Fresno Pacific, which is also making the jump. The Cougars’ biggest challengers for a league championship will be Fresno Pacific, Grand Canyon (Ariz.), and Hawai’i Pacific. HPU is ranked No. 5 nationally by the ITA, with Grand Canyon holding onto the 10-spot in Division II. Hawai’i Pacific will host the inaugural PacWest championship in Honolulu, Hawai’i from April 17-20.