GREAT RIO VALLEY – The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) men’s tennis team played an extremely tough schedule in 2022, facing six ranked opponents throughout the spring season.
Facing tough opponents has helped the Vaqueros (6-17, 2-4 Western Athletic Conference) grow as individuals and as a team under the freshman head coach Nathan Robinson. They honed their strengths, committed to their styles of play and showed improvement over the season.
“I’m proud of what the 2022 team has achieved,” Robinson said. “It was a team that hadn’t beaten a DI program the year before, and then we were competing against the Top 10 programs and beating multiple DI schools this year. They took it all as a learning experience. and we’ve grown a lot over the year. Really excited to see what our returning players can achieve in our second year together.”
Senior Carlo Izurieta and junior Micha Kvantaliani shone as they headlined the lineup. They led the team with identical records of 10-10 singles and 3-3 singles in WAC play. Kvantaliani maintained the No. 1 flight in singles and doubles, collecting a combined 20 wins on the best courts to set the pace for the team.
Izurieta, UTRGV’s No. 2 player and captain of the team, picked up the season’s crowning victory. He beat No. 24 Texas A&M’s Mathis Bondaz at College Station, erasing a 4-6 first set loss to take the second 7-5 and secure the 1-0 (10-6) victory in the third.
His win was the program’s first against a Power Five opponent since 2017 and was part of a three-game winning streak for Izurieta, who has had three such streaks throughout the season. He picked up back-to-back wins over TAMUCC’s Ryuya Ata and other notable wins over UIW’s Arnau Miralles, NMSU’s Martin Simecek and GCU’s Freddie Grant.
First-year student Sam Whitehead showed steady improvement, anchoring a push into the bottom half of the roster late in the season. He closed his rookie season strong, winning five of his last twelve games. He was nicknamed “Mr. Clutch” after scoring team wins over NJIT and Chicago State, coming back from first-set losses to defeat Ashwin Kanetar and Jakub Zamorski respectively in competitive battles. Whitehead showed resilience playing from behind. Four of his wins were comebacks after losing the first set, and he forced seven matches to a third frame after giving up the opening frame.
The Vaqueros played well in doubles, posting a .426 winning percentage with 26 doubles wins. Kvantaliani and junior George Hutchings were the winningest duo, going 8-5 overall and 3-1 in conference in Flight No. 1.
The young Australian duo of Whitehead and junior Chris Lawrance went 7-8 overall and 2-3 in the WAC, mostly sitting in third place. Lawrance tied Kvantaliani with a team record 10 doubles wins and lined up with four different partners. Robinson said Whitehead and Lawrance “have become very solid doubles players and are only scratching the surface of what they can do on the court”.
Izurieta and fellow senior captain Alberto Mello held the No. 2 doubles steal, going 5-11 overall. They brought an abundance of energy and passion to the roster and, along with summer graduate Kvantaliani, left behind a legacy of hard work and getting it right on and off the pitch.
“For our guys who graduated, I’m so excited to see them excel in their graduate programs and in the real world. These guys are great humans who will do great things in their lives,” Robinson said. .
After not being able to complete the 2021 season due to an abundance of injuries, it was gratifying for the Vaqueros to pick up WAC victories over Seattle U and Chicago State to secure the No. 5 seed and return to the tournament. of conference. Battling the likes of Texas, Texas Tech, TCU, TAMU, Louisiana and Oklahoma State has shown the UTRGV that it can compete with the best, and the Vaqueros will be ready to s lean on the positive points of the spring 2022 season.
“When you think back to the season, the question you always want to ask is, ‘Would the March version of us beat the January version?’ I think the answer for us is a huge yes,” Robinson said. “We saw ourselves growing into bigger physical monsters who were also mentally strong. We saw the commitment to growing the program by going the extra mile to achieve the desired results. Great things are happening in the Valley!”
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