SALISBURY, Md. – The 2017 season was unique for the Salisbury University men's tennis team with freshmen in the top two spots to begin the year. By the end of the 16-6 campaign, freshman were playing in four of the top five spots in the singles lineup setting the program up for a successful 2018 and beyond.
Colt Williamson and Ian Siew held down the top two singles positions for the 2017 season in their first year of collegiate tennis, with each earning All-Capital Athletic Conference honors and the duo is expected to be back at the top of the lineup again to begin their sophomore year.
Williamson played all 17 of his singles matches last year at No. 1, going 10-7 while Siew was 12-6 playing primarily at No. 2.
Behind the pair is where the Sea Gulls' outstanding depth comes into play, with some young returners and a few fresh faces.
MacLean worked his way into lineup and up to the No. 3 single spot last year, posting a 12-4 singles record. Ryan played 12 singles matches as a freshman, dealing with injury throughout the year, but has come back stronger and confident for 2018.
"It's night and day from where he was last year to this year," Head Coach Randy Halfpap said. "He's much healthier than he was last year and he's playing the best tennis I've ever seen him play. Hopefully, that continues and he stays healthy.
"He's always been a counterpuncher. Whatever you give me, I'm going to give back. But he's starting to understand that he can be a little more aggressive now."
Also expected to see time in the lineup right away is the lone freshman on the roster, Stefan Hein. Hein has a long junior career, and despite being a freshman, has a great deal of experience.
"He comes in having played a lot of matches," Halfpap said. "For him, there's no opponent, style-wise, that he will see that he hasn't played before. He's seen a lot of different things, and the experience factor is there, but it's obviously different playing for somebody else, playing for the University, playing for your teammates."
The Sea Gulls will also see battles from junior Andrew Rainger and sophomore Garrett Malave for playing time. Rainger was 11-8 in 19 singles matches last year, while Malave went 6-3. Each will try to work their way into the singles lineup.
The returning players, now with a year of experience under their belts know what they're capable of, they know what to expect, but they also know they have a long career ahead of them.
"There's the comfort level of having some experience," Halfpap said. "Five of our top six guys have played college tennis before, and have played a significant amount of college matches, so we're excited that we have that experience factor, but we're still young. I can already tell through the first few weeks of practice, the comfort level is there, and there's a better knowledge of what to expect and how to take care of your body for the long run of the season."
In doubles play, many of the same individuals will be in the mix, looking for the first three points of a match.
Late last season, Halfpap made a move to split his top doubles duo, putting MacLean and Williamson together. The pair played seven of the final eight matches of the season at No. 1, claiming All-CAC honors, and following a run to the championship match of the Sea Gull Open earlier this month, will likely begin the season together.
Ryan and Siew played the final eight matches together last season, winning six times, and looks primed for the No. 2 spot to begin the year, while Hein, Weber, Malave, and Rainger all look to figure into the No. 3 spot.
"It's definitely a task of trying to create the three best teams," Halfpap said. "Having Kelson come in this year, and Stefan who's new, that adds to the depth and the potential for more teams and more combinations. The options are there, it's just a matter of trying to figure out which ones work."
The Sea Gulls begin the 2018 spring slate this Saturday, February 17 when they host Stevenson University and Juniata College at the Salisbury University Indoor Tennis Center.
The schedule features stronger talent throughout the season in order to prepare the team for the CAC schedule and then postseason play.
Salisbury takes on four teams in the preseason top 40 with No. 34 The College of New Jersey and No. 22 Sewanee: The University of South in non-conference play and No. 28 Christopher Newport University and No. 29 University of Mary Washington on the slate in CAC play.