Men's Tennis Lifts Lid Hosting Jack Kennedy Classic – University of New Mexico Lobos athletics official website news

Men's Tennis Lifts Lid Hosting Jack Kennedy Classic – University of New Mexico Lobos athletics official website news

The Jack Kennedy Classic is less than 48 hours away!!!! LET’S GO!!!!!
Lobos host UT Arlington Friday at 3 pm!!!#GoLobos pic.twitter.com/7zGHxSMVpe
— UNM Men’s Tennis (@UNMLoboMTennis) January 18, 2023

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was an eventful fall campaign that saw the Lobo men’s tennis team host a pair of major tournaments including the 2022 Fall ITA Mountain Regionals and net some terrific individual performances.
Tops on that list was a doubles win by Alex Maggs and Jan Pucalka in the USTA M-15, racing through the draw for title despite being a wild card entry.  UNM also saw local star Georgio Samaha and Daniil Kakhniuk reel off eight fall wins.
Now, after the individual fall season, attention turns to the team spring season, and it all starts with the Inaugural Jack Kennedy Classic, which features the UT Arlington Mavericks and the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The Jack Kennedy Classic, named in honor of UNM’s very first All-American tennis player, begins on Friday at 3 p.m. with the Lobos hosting UT Arlington.  The Mavericks and Bulldogs will square off in a neutral match on Saturday at noon, and the Lobos will face off with Gonzaga Sunday at 11 a.m.
The matches are slated for the Linda Estes Indoor Tennis Bubbles due to the impending cold weather in the area over the weekend.  Admission to the Jack Kennedy Classic is free.
For the Lobos and head coach Chris Russell, the 2023 season has been a long, agonizing wait since the end of the 2022 season.  That ending was crushing.  The Lobos fell in the finals of the Mountain West Championship Tournament, losing 4-3 to Nevada, falling 7-5 in the third set of the final singles match on a deuce point.
Five freshmen in the lineup in 2022 got THAT close to winning their way into the NCAA Tournament and capturing a third straight Mountain West title.  Now, the goal is clear, as UNM’s freshmen are all sophomores, pairing with seniors Rafael Abdulsalam and Alex Maggs and two newcomers to get back to that exact spot, the Mountain West title match, and this time bring it home.
First, UNM will run through a tough non-conference schedule that sees several Power 5 conference teams and some perennial powers that starts this weekend.
What the Lobos have is a young but veteran squad that features four players that earned Mountain West Freshmen of the Week honors in 2022.  The leader of that group is Arda Azkara, who was the Mountain West’s Co-Freshman of the Year.  Azkara missed much of the fall with an injury but is healthy and ready to go.  He played almost exclusively at No. 1 as a freshman in 2022 and should anchor UNM’s lineup once again.
Senior Rafael Abdulsalam brings with him 39 career wins into the fall campaign, and with a COVID season in the bank potentially, Abdulsalam can return in 2024 as well.  Rafa played a couple of matches last year in the top slot but was mostly UNM’s No. 2 player, giving the Lobos a potent 1-2 punch.
Here is where it gets fun for Lobo fans.  Last year saw a mix of players playing in slots three through six, with Aram Noroozian playing most of the matches at No. 3, Alex Maggs playing the most at No. 4, Jan Pucalka at No. 5 and Samaha at No. 6.  All four of those players return, along with Kakhniuk, who along with Samaha led the team in the fall with eight singles wins.
Add in Ryomo Matsushita, who transferred in from Oregon and played well with four wins in the spring.  He played both No. 1 and No. 6 last year with Oregon, giving UNM an experienced player with the ability to play anywhere in the lineup.  Freshman Nikolay Sysoev didn’t play in the fall, but adds to the mix as UNM could potentially change its lineup every match with easily UNM’s deepest team in years.
The Lobos haven’t announced doubles pairings, but certainly one would expect Maggs and Pucalka to join forces again.  They combined for 10 wins last year including a 7-4 record at No. 2 doubles, and they won seven matches this fall, and that doesn’t including the five on the way to the UTSA M-15 title in Albuquerque.
Samaha and Abdulsalam were brilliant as a team in 2022, going 12-3, so the question might be which of the other five players round out doubles for UNM.  Either way, it should be a strength in 2023, and opening up matches with a 1-09 lead thanks to a doubles point win in never a bad thing.
The Lobos open with UT Arlington, which went 13-12 last year and advanced to the Sun Belt semifinals a year ago.  The Mavericks turned in a combined 25-32 singles record in the fall, and 11-10 in doubles.  The match on Friday is the season opener for both teams.
The Lobos will then take on Gonzaga on Sunday.  UNM fell in 2022 to Gonzaga 4-2 and will look to exact a little bit of revenge on the Bulldogs.  Gonzaga opened its season with a 7-0 whitewashing of Eastern Washington, taking all six singles matches and all three doubles matches, losing just 22 games over the six singles matches, winning all 12 sets.
NOTES:  On Sunday, the Lobos will honor the tournament’s namesake Jack Kennedy in between doubles and singles matches, which should occur around 11:30 a.m.  Last year, Kennedy and his wife, Sue, worked with Kay Francis, a Master Artist with Romero Jewelers to design one of a kind All-American rings for the first four Lobo All-Americans in the men’s tennis program … Kennedy was UNM’s first men’s tennis All-American, earning the honor in 1958 … he went undefeated during his freshman season … with freshmen ineligible for NCAA Championships, Kennedy after that season played on  the 1957 Canadian Grass Court Circuit, winning a tournament up north … he was UNM’s first four-year All-Conference honoree, named from 1957-60, winning the Skyline singles titles in 1957 and 1958, finishing runner-up in 1959 and making it to the semifinals in 1960.
 
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