SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University men's tennis team approaches its 2019 season opener with one of its largest rosters in recent years, leading to depth and added competition for playing time.
The decisions get even harder for Head Coach Randy Halfpap, as a number of newcomers will push the group of returners – which includes all six regular starters from the 2018 squad.
"It adds a little bit more of a competitive edge,"Halfpap said. "When you walk on the court to go do something competitive, you get that feeling that you have to bring it or you could get beat. Our players are competing every day and it's added a new dynamic to the team."
Salisbury's top two singles players, and top doubles pair, juniors Colt Williamson and Ian Siew, return for their third year at the top of the lineup, looking to build off a strong 2018 season and fall.
"The really nice thing with both of them, in particular, coming off the spring and a really good fall, the confidence that can come from a great run at the ITA regional in the fall, it even helps with singles, as well," Halfpap said. "You have two years under your belt playing 15 or 16 matches those last two years, with Colt doing it at number one and Ian at number two, they have great experience. And coming into the spring season, the experience on top of playing well, I'm definitely happy with where they are right now."
The pair each earned All-Capital Athletic Conference honors in each of their first two seasons with Siew being named to the first team for his singles play while the pair earned second team honors for doubles last year.
Joining the returners at the top of the lineup will be junior Alec Angradi, who transferred from Division I College of Charleston, beginning at Salisbury in the spring semester. Angradi has made the quick adjustment to the Eastern Shore, making a strong showing in the Sea Gull Open last weekend, advancing to the championship match.
"It can be tough. Over the years, we've had some spring admits and the transition can be difficult. The first day of classes is the first day of practice and you get thrown into things," Halfpap said. "He's been great. The guys have done really well welcoming him. He's obviously a very talented player, with two years of great division one experience, playing some really good players and being successful at it."
The Sea Gulls enter the year with 10 players in the mix for significant playing time this year, and all of them are likely to get their chances to prove themselves in matches early in the season as Halfpap hones in on a more regular lineup.
"We have time to play around with the lineup a little bit," Halfpap said. "And that's something I've told the players is that I love making those difficult decisions because that means we have options to do different things and that's good for the team."
Four returners will be battling for those chances, alongside a pair of talented freshmen. The only senior on the roster, Kelson Weber, rejoined the team in 2018 after a year away, and has returned with an added passion.
"For some people, when you end up with that year off, it can be a wake-up call and it makes you appreciate how much you really love it," Halfpap said. "And he is absolutely one of those people, who missed a year and came back as ready as he could possibly be, and not just playing better, but taking a leadership role."
Reigning CAC Rookie of the Year Stefan Hein heads to his sophomore season after a year in which he went 17-3 playing in all of his singles matches in the top three spots in the lineup and juniors Matthew Ryan, Patrick MacLean, and Garrett Malave have played significant matches throughout their careers and look to continue to do so in 2019.
"They've really been a pleasant surprise," Halfpap said. "They were both here in the fall and we knew what they were capable of doing, but they've both significantly improved from the fall to the spring."
The Sea Gulls play their first match of the season on Saturday, February 16 hosting Dickinson College at the Indoor Tennis Center beginning at 1 p.m. That contest will mark the first of six straight matches at home to begin the year.
Salisbury will take on three teams ranked in the preseason top 40 – two of which will be CAC contests – along with numerous teams ranked in their region.
"I think it's exciting to have more of those 50/50 or 60/40 matches," Halfpap said. "I try to set it up that way that we have competitive matches and it worked out where we can do that."