The early signs of spring also signal the beginning of the 2020 men’s tennis season. The Phoenix looks to maintain its CAA Championship and make it to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season.
The road back to the NCAA tournament will not be an easy one. The Phoenix has already tackled the Research Triangle with games against two ranked teams, the North Carolina Tar Heels and the North Carolina State Wolfpack. The Phoenix has also played in Durham against Duke. The experience will likely serve as a meaningful practice for later in the season.
“We all know that what we’re trying to do is peak in April,” said Michael Leonard, men’s tennis head coach. “We know there’s a lot of potential in this team. ... We’ve got to get healthy, and we’ve got to continue to work hard. And we think if we can do that, then we can be in the hunt at the end of the season.”
The tough tests at the beginning of the schedule were planned for Leonard, now in his 16th season at the helm of the Phoenix program, anchored by juniors Camilo Ponce and Kyle Frankel.
“We always try to stack a schedule. … It’s good to kind of get used to the highest caliber to kind of see where you stand,” Leonard said. “I think it is good for our players, kids like Camilo and Kyle, to play against the best. They want that opportunity. … They look forward to that opportunity.”
Elon still has to play East Tennessee State, Virginia Commonwealth and the U.S. Naval Academy, all of which made the NCAA tournament last season. The Phoenix will also face off against conference foes William & Mary in Williamsburg, James Madison University in Harrisonburg and College of Charleston at the home at Jimmy Powell Tennis Center.
Ponce, hailing from Quito, Ecuador, is one of the older faces on the team. He said he looks to assist the younger players while building upon his stellar 2019 season. He was named All-CAA Second Team in doubles his sophomore season, and he won the championship-clinching match at the No. 5 position at the 2019 CAA Championships.
“I try to motivate them, push them hard and also have a good relationship with them, so they can hear me and also I can learn from them as well,” Ponce said.
Ponce knows the team dynamic is at the core of the collegiate game. He said the team aspect of college matches differs from the tournaments he was used to.
“I was playing more international tournaments, and it’s all by yourself. So you work for yourself. You are looking for results for yourself,” Ponce said. “But here, it’s different. It’s a group, so it doesn’t matter if you lose or you win. If the team wins, it’s positive for the team.”
Improvement is integral to success for Leonard as the Phoenix tries to reach the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.
“Our goal is each day to try to get better and try to improve in each match,” Leonard said. “You see a difference in our competitive nature and our ability to kind of fight through adversity and things of that nature.”
Leonard said he is looking forward to the change of venue and the players’ opportunity to travel together.
“I don’t mind going the road some,” Leonard said. “We’ve been [at Jimmy Powell] several years in a row. So, I’m actually looking forward to the guys traveling and being together.”
It will be a difficult journey for the Phoenix if it wishes to repeat as CAA champions and return to the NCAA tournament, but Leonard said his staff is striving to maximize the team’s potential.
“From my side, our objective as a team is to be — when we get to the conference tournament — be as competitive as we can and get the best we can give in the court. And hopefully, we can do that,” Leonard said. “And get the championship, of course. But, it’s a long path. Every match is going to help us improve.”