It was never going to be easy to duplicate last year’s success.
In 2014, the Elon University men’s tennis team won 19 matches, both the Southern Conference regular and post-season championships and swept both player and coach of the year honors.
With six losses to open the season, it appeared the Phoenix was headed for a period of regression. But after three straight wins, Elon looks like its keeping the 2015 season on track.
Head coach Michael Leonard said a lot has to do with getting players off the trainer’s table and on the court.
“We’re getting healthy, that’s number one,” Leonard said. “I think [Saturday was] the first time we’ve played with a completely healthy lineup.”
Freshman Josh Luck was one of the Elon players stung by the injury bug, but he looks to be settling into the collegiate game. The Cape Town, South Africa, native earned his first two collegiate wins Saturday, Feb. 14, against North Carolina A&T State University and Presbyterian College.
“Personally, I had been struggling for a while with being injured,” Luck said. “I think today helped a lot with me getting back on track.”
Luck led the way from the No. 1 singles spot against North Carolina A&T with a straight sets win and went on to win clinching match for the Phoenix against Presbyterian at No. 4 singles.
The Phoenix opened up its season with five ranked opponents out of its first six matches. The team would go winless over that stretch, but spirits weren’t shattered.
“Obviously, when you lose a bunch of matches, it can start leading toward negative thinking,” Luck said. “The fact [that]they were all really good teams, and never really getting blown out by them, kept us staying in a good frame of mind.”
Elon lost against the University of South Carolina of the Southeastern Conference Jan. 17, and two days later lost a rematch with the University of Tennessee, who knocked Elon out of the NCAA Tournament last year.
The Phoenix then traveled to Athens, Georgia, where the team lost both its matches in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Kickoff to the University of Utah and Michigan State University. The losing streak came to an end after two losses on the road to Old Dominion University and Virginia Commonwealth University.
Luck said the team will draw on difficult matchups from early in the season as it progresses.
“The first couple of teams we played were really, really good, and we just hoped we could carry everything over from those first few weeks,” he said. “They always put you in a good mindset, and if we carry it into the next few games we should do quite well.”
Leonard said the early matches will remove the fear the team will have going into the rest of the season’s opponents.
“We’ve played some really tough teams, and the rest of the schedule we feel like we can compete with everyone,” he said. “We feel like we’re ready to go. We have some top teams coming up, but were going to get better."
Elon also has the fortune of playing its next nine matches at home in the Jimmy Powell Tennis Center. Leonard hopes the home court advantage is as good as it was this past weekend.
Plus Leonard believes playing outdoors in the elements provides the best conditions for the Phoenix. “We like playing outside,” he said. “We’re definitely not an indoor team. We don’t have big guys with huge serves. We grind, fight and scrap. So we’re definitely an outdoor team.”
Elon will look to stretch its winning streak to four when it hosts Winthrop University on Friday, Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Jimmy Powell Tennis Center. Last year, the Phoenix traveled to Rock Hill, South Carolina, and knocked off Winthrop University 4-3.