With its highest national ranking in program history, a second straight Southern Conference regular season title and an undefeated conference record, it would seem the Elon University men’s tennis team has nothing left to prove.
But the team is not resting on its regular season success, as it will be the last chance at a conference tournament title for Elon’s lone senior, Cameron Silverman.
“I’m missing a conference tournament on my resume. That’s the one thing I really want,” Silverman said. “[The tournament] is always the most exciting part of the year, I think, for everybody on the team just to see all the hard work we’ve done over the year and to see if it pays off in the end.”
For Silverman, a conference tournament title would be the icing on the cake of an amazing career in maroon and gold. Silverman has gained national recognition for his play throughout his four years. In January 2014, Silverman won the Men’s National Open Indoor Championship by defeating the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Quinto Vega. With his success, Silverman has become a staple in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s singles rankings. The Mount Kisco, N.Y. native was ranked 35th in the most recent ITA polls.
But the road does not end here for Silverman. The senior has aspirations to continue his playing career after Elon and to try to establish himself on the professional circuit. Despite not playing at a traditional powerhouse program, Silverman said he has been given every opportunity to help him succeed at the next level.
“We start off with a really strong nonconference schedule, so I get a little bit of a feel [for things]. I played guys like Mitchell Frank of [University of] Virginia and other guys that are also trying to go on the Pro tour,” Silverman said. “Whenever I practice, coaches are always trying to make changes for me and always trying to develop more for when I get out of school and play with the big boys.”
Elon head coach Michael Leonard said he believes that, with more improvement, Silverman can become a formidable pro.
“He has a couple things technically he has to get better at, [such as] a bigger forehand and little more consistent first serve,” Leonard said.
According to Leonard, a former professional himself, the key for Silverman’s success as a pro goes beyond skills.
“The thing for him to be the pro he wants to be and the pro I’d like him to be is to continue to be emotionally strong,” Leonard said. “To be able to come out with the same mentality day in and day out throughout a match, which is a challenge for him. He’s so much better than he used to be, but to go to a pro level — it’s called professional for a reason.”
Silverman and the rest of the squad have steamrolled through conference play en route to their 9-0 record. In its nine wins, the Phoenix has shut out opponents four times, won 6-1 four times and 5-2 once. But Leonard is not letting the lopsided scores make him or the rest of the team too comfortable.
“I think what happened a lot was we won a lot of close matches,” Leonard said. “We won some big points in big moments to make the score a little more lopsided than it actually was.”
Junior Stefan Fortmann, March’s Southern Conference Player of the Month, said each match was a challenge regardless of the final score.
“Some of the matches may show up 5-2, 6-1, but they’ve been tough matches for our team,” Fortmann said.
Perhaps Elon’s biggest threat in the SoCon tournament is Furman University. Despite their struggles last year, the Paladins have found winning form behind new No. 1 singles player freshman Adam Steryous.
“[Steryous] really meshed that team together,” Silverman said.
The Phoenix defeated Furman in Greenville 6-1 in a matchup of the last two unbeaten SoCon teams.
“They have a couple of big guys on the team. We did see some really big serves, and they’re a really dangerous team and have a lot of talent,” Fortmann said. “When they get hot, they can definitely do damage to any other team in the conference. We’re fortunate to have battled through some adversity. The guys toughened up to pull out a good win.”
Elon defeated in-state rival Appalachian State University to clinch the regular season title, but Fortmann admitted the Mountaineers can pose a threat come tournament time.
“They’ve had a good regular season themselves,” Fortmann said. “Although their overall record maybe isn’t showing that they’ve had the best of seasons, you see their record in conference it’s been one of the [better] ones. They definitely don’t have a team that we can’t blow past.”
Leonard sees Appalachian State as a potential wild card because the Mountaineers will enter the tournament after a strong end-of-season schedule.
If Elon is going to take home the tournament title, the Phoenix will have to dethrone defending champion Samford University. The Bulldogs defeated Elon on its home court in 2013 in a match that came down to the final game. But the Phoenix has gotten the best of the Bulldogs in 2014, beating them twice.
“The first time we played them, it went really down to the wire. There were three or four matches that could have gone either way,” Silverman said.
Elon then beat Samford again, this time in conference play. The Phoenix dominated throughout the day, blanking the Bulldogs 7-0.
Even with a field full of competition, the team believes its focus needs to be on itself, rather than the opponents.
“We can control things with how we play. Everything we focus on now is what we’re doing, and things will take care of themselves,” Leonard said.
Regardless of where the focus lies, Elon has found winning form. With all eyes on Chattanooga, the Phoenix will look to keep the momentum rolling.
“We’re just going out and playing and doing what we’re doing every match. It seems to be a winning formula, so we just have to try and keep it up,” Fortmann said.