The women’s squad, seeded No. 9, takes on No. 8-seed Appalachian State Thursday at noon. The men’s team earned the fourth seed and faces No. 5 Appalachian State Friday at 10 a.m.
The Lady Mocs, 10-16 overall, can match last year’s win total with a first-round victory. UTC, also seeded ninth last year, upended eighth-seeded Elon 4-1 in the first round at the 2006 tournament. Top-seeded Furman knocked out the Lady Mocs 4-0 in the quarterfinals.
Head Coach Tom Lowry’s lone senior, Anastasia Zhukova, hopes to lead UTC deep into the tournament. Zhukova, who plays No. 1 singles, is ranked 47th in this week’s FILA ITA Collegiate Tennis rankings and has been ranked as high as No. 23, the highest ranking ever for a female player in the SoCon. She has won her last 10 singles matches and 17 of her last 18.
Lining up at No. 2 singles will be junior Lindsey Ballard, who has won eight of her last 10 matches. Sophomore Beata Knizat, playing at No. 3, has a five-match win streak. Also expected to be in the lineup are junior Bonnie Adams at No. 4, freshman Kate Ksiezopolski at No. 5 and sophomore Samantha Duggan at No. 6.
Despite being seeded No. 4 or lower, the men’s team has advanced to the tournament finals each of the last two years. Last season’s run included wins over No. 5 Wofford and No. 1 Elon before falling to No. 2 Furman, 4-2 in the title match.
Head Coach Carlos Garcia feels this year’s team is deeper. However, he also thinks the conference, as a whole, is as strong as it has been in years.
The men, 16-6, also have just one senior, Mark Fynn, who has had an outstanding season at No. 2 singles and was a key player on the 2005 and 2006 SoCon runnerup squads. Fynn is 17-5 overall and went 8-1 in SoCon matches.
Joining him in the lineup will be veterans Badr Bouabdellah, a junior at No. 1, Razvan Axente, a junior at No. 5 and junior Michael Hangstefer at No. 6.
The lineup has improved with three newcomers this season, Tim Mittiga, Peter Sauska and Pavel Vostrikov. Mittiga, a sophomore, plays at No. 4 singles and is 14-3 overall, and Sauska, a sophomore, plays No. 3 and is 17-5.
A first-match victory for either squad could set up a matchup with the top-seed in each bracket. The Lady Mocs would face No. 1-seed Furman Friday at 8:30 a.m., while the men would line up against the winner of top-seeded Elon and No. 8 UNC Greensboro or No. 9 Davidson at 1 p.m. Saturday.