By Phillip Ericksen
The 26th-ranked men’s tennis team will face its toughest test of the season, taking on the No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Hurd Tennis Center.
This is the start of a three-game stretch in which the Bears (9-1) will take on three top-five teams in three days.
The team will play the No. 2 UCLA Bruins at noon Sunday and the No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers the following day at 3 p.m. Both are home matches as well.
As the toughest portion of the season approaches, the Bears are excited to make a strong statement through their play.
“We feel like we’re a good team,” head coach Matt Knoll said. “We think we’re in a good place relative to this group of matches coming up. Certainly the Kentucky match is going to be a huge challenge and I think we’re ready for it. So it’s a good spot.”
After picking up two victories in a doubleheader Saturday, the Bears are on a seven-match win streak.
In order to keep it going, they don’t plan on changing any mindsets.
“I don’t think we’re preparing different than for the other matches,” said sophomore Marko Krickovic, who is ranked 77th in the nation. “It’s still in-season, and it’s obviously a big match. But the more important matches will come at the end, especially the NCAAs and the Big 12, so it’s basically like any other match.”
Krickovic has won 17 of his last 24 matches, and he has only dropped two games in his last four sets.
Freshman Julian Lenz, ranked 43rd, will be expected to play a number of tough opponents during this stretch. The team’s last real test was a road victory against then-No. 16 Florida.
“I think we’re pretty good in all positions,” Lenz said. “We just have to be focused and have to keep intensity up as we did in the last couple matches, especially like against the Gators in Florida. If we can hold this energy level, then we’re on a pretty good way.”
Since arriving at Baylor, Lenz is 16-4 in his matches, including a five-match winning streak.
Knoll has the team not only focusing on conditioning for these matches but also on strategy.
“We know their players pretty well,” Knoll said. “We’ve done a little homework to know them a little bit better. We know what we’re getting into. When you look at their team, you see that their one or two guys both have one loss against a very good schedule.”
The Bears defeated the Wildcats last year in Kentucky in a hard-fought 4-3 match.
They will try to repeat that result Friday.
“We’re certainly underdogs, but we’re excited about that role,” Knoll said.
Baylor will take on its first conference foe on April 7 against Texas Tech in Lubbock.