OU Men's Tennis Ranked Second in Preseason Poll

Having finished as the national runner-up in each of the last two seasons, and fresh off its fourth consecutive Big 12 Championship, the Oklahoma men’s tennis team begins its 2016 spring season ranked No. 2 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s (ITA) preseason poll.

The Sooners also began the season at number two last year, setting a program record for highest preseason ranking, before ascending to the top spot for much of the year.

“We’re excited about starting the year at No. 2,” Sooner head coach John Roddick said. “It’s a product of how well we performed last year and what we return. At the same time we all realize that preseason rankings mean nothing, and we need to work hard and stay focused to reach our goals. Nothing will be given to us.”

The 2016 OU squad returns five of its six starters in singles from 2015. Senior Axel Alvarez is currently ranked No. 60 by the ITA after playing only a light fall schedule. Alvarez is the reigning Big 12 and National Player of the Year and in 2015 became the first Sooner in program history to be ranked No. 1 in singles. He earned All-America and All-Big 12 honors in both singles and doubles and finished 39-6 on the year, including a 23-match winning streak, playing primarily in the No. 1 singles position. Alvarez’s 39 wins in singles were the second most in a single season in program history and vault him into second place in career singles wins (103) by a Sooner.

Joining Alvarez in the rankings is junior Alex Ghilea, who starts the year ranked No. 92. Ghilea was instrumental in the Sooners’ run to the 2015 ITA National Indoor Championship title, going 4-0 for the tournament and taking home M.O.P. honors. Ghilea racked up a singles record of 36-10 in 2015 and paired with fellow junior Andrew Harris to go 5-0 in doubles during Big 12 play, the only duo in the league to finish unbeaten.

Harris begins the season unranked in the ITA poll, a computer generated ranking system based on fall results, after sitting out the fall portion of the 2015 calendar. Harris is coming off a sensational sophomore campaign that saw him take home All-America honors in singles and All-Big 12 honors in both singles and doubles. Harris finished 25-8 in 2015, splitting time in the No. 1 position with Alvarez. Harris earned the No. 4 overall seed for the NCAA Singles Championship and was named the 2015 ITA National Player to Watch. The Melbourne, Australia, native played a heavy schedule in 2015, one that included several appearances in pro tournaments. Harris finished 8-3 in those events and picked up four wins over players ranked in the top 200 of the ITF world rankings. He finished the 2015 spring season ranked No. 8 by the ITA.

Rounding out the Sooners’ returning starters are sophomore Spencer Papa and junior Florin Bragusi who played at No. 5 and No. 6 singles respectively. Bragusi was clutch for OU all year, going 4-0 in situations in which his was the last match on. One of those wins came in the Big 12 Championship against Baylor and another in the Sooners’ sweet 16 win over UCLA in the NCAA Championships. Bragusi finished the year 13-4 in singles, including a 4-1 mark during postseason play.

Papa turned in a remarkable freshman season, finishing 14-11 on the year. Papa improved all season, and peaked during the postseason where he went 4-1 during the NCAA Championships and turned in the Sooners’ only point in the national final against Virginia.

The Sooners’ quest for a fifth straight Big 12 Championship will be a difficult one as four other Big 12 squads rank in the top-15. TCU and Baylor, who both advanced to the final four at last year’s NCAA championships, rank No. 3 and No. 4 respectively and Texas sits in the No. 12 spot.

The Sooners kick off the 2015 season at the MLK Invitational, Jan. 16-18 in Atlanta, Ga. The first home match of the season will be Saturday, Jan. 23 at 2 p.m. at the Headington Family Tennis Center against Utah State as part of the 2016 ITA Kick-Off Weekend.

For complete ITA rankings click here.

For more information on OU Men’s Tennis, follow the team on Twitter at@OU_MTennis.

/// SoonerSports PR

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