Riding high after a blowout victory in its Southern Conference opener March 1, the Elon University men’s tennis team is looking to remain focused on its main goal: win the SoCon.
“We have to stay hungry,” Elon senior Cameron Silverman said. “Obviously, in past years everybody has favored us to win the conference, and little things have gone wrong, (but) this is my senior year, my last run at the conference so I want to win it more now than ever.”
The Phoenix cruised to its first SoCon win of the season, defeating 2013 semifinalist University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Elon controlled the match from start to finish, winning all three doubles matches as well as the six singles matches.
“I was happy with our consistent play throughout the day,” Elon head coach Michael Leonard said. “We got on top of them and stayed on top of them.”
But with a pair of conference matchups coming up this weekend, the team has already turned to the next page of its season. The Phoenix takes on in-state rival Davidson College March 9, but the main even at the Jimmy Powell Tennis Center will be Elon’s matchup with defending SoCon champion Samford University on Saturday, March 8.
The Phoenix lost in heartbreaking fashion in the title match on their home court to the Bulldogs one year ago. With the match tied at three apiece, Silverman fought back at No. 1 singles to send the deciding match to a winner-take-all final set. Samford’s Zac Dunkle outfought Silverman to take win the match and the conference championship.
“We had a bad taste in our mouth after last year, so we have to bring it on Saturday and we’re looking forward to playing them at home,” Silverman said.
Saturday’s matchup will be the only conference matchup between the two sides, but they did meet earlier this year. Both schools represented the SoCon at the ITA Kickoff Weekend in Charlottesville, V.A., Jan. 24-25. The Phoenix lost to top-ranked University of Virginia while Samford lost to Big Ten outfit Indiana University setting up an all-SoCon consolation matchup.
“It was 4-2, but it was a really tough 4-2,” Silverman said. The Mount Kisco, N.Y., native lost his doubles match alongside junior Stefan Fortmann, but his win at No. 1 singles over senior Elliot Barnwell clinched the win for the Phoenix.
Leonard said though the team did not play particularly great in its early season matchup against Samford, he feels there are improvements to be made.
“We’re moving in the right direction, but we’re nowhere where we want to be,” he said.
Samford has dropped out of the ITA rankings recently, but Leonard recognizes they still have guys who can do damage.
“Up top they’re pretty good,” Leonard said. “They’re a good team, but I think their strength is their top three or four guys.”
The Phoenix will look to go toe-for-toe with Samford’s big hitters with Silverman, who was ranked 25th in the most recent ITA singles polls, and SoCon player of the week junior Jordan Kaufman. Kaufman honors came on the back of a 2-0 record in both singles and doubles competitions this past week.