When the UNLV men’s tennis team began its dual match season in January, coach Owen Hambrook hoped the Rebels would compete for a second straight Mountain West Conference Tournament title.
And women’s coach Kevin Cory had national top-25 aspirations for his team.
As it turns out, both coaches have had to re-evaluate those goals. Injuries have Hambrook and Cory trying to make up for the absence of some of their better players.
Top men’s player Elliot Wronski has been slowed by back pain and freshman Andrew Guiffrida recently turned an ankle. As a result, the Rebels have hobbled to a 6-8 nonconference record.
“Elliot’s back has really bothered him all semester,” Hambrook said. “He has good days and bad days, but there have definitely been issues.”
Back-to-back 4-3 losses to No. 39 Mississippi State and No. 68 South Carolina two weeks ago exemplified the problem. Wronski (13-9) beat 26th-ranked Ivan Bjelica of Mississippi State one day, then lost to an unranked South Carolina player the next day.
Hambrook’s lineup has been unable to fill the void created on Wronski’s bad days.
“We just don’t have the depth this year we had last year,” Hambrook said. “So we’re relying more heavily on our more experienced guys.”
Sophomore Luca Barlocchi (15-8 in singles) and junior Wesley Burrows (12-8) have competed gamely, but their success hasn’t translated into team victories. Even so, Hambrook thinks his team has learned lessons that could pay off in the conference play.
“We’ve had some close losses that could have gone either way, but the guys have learned from that,” he said. “Those close losses to good teams reinforced their belief that we are a good team.”
The Rebels will host Brigham Young (10-5) on Thursday to begin the Mountain West season.
“We’ve played a tough schedule,” Hambrook said. “Based on the competition we’ve had, no one in the conference is unbeatable.”
Texas Christian (11-4) enters Mountain West play as the favorite, followed closely by BYU.
UNLV’s women are battling through a disappointing spring, as junior standout Katy Williams (14-7) has missed the last four matches with an undisclosed injury. The Rebels (8-6) lost three of them.
The team’s No. 42 ranking is not what Cory was expecting.
“I thought this team, for sure, was one of the best I’ve ever had,” he said. “I still feel that way, but in tennis it’s devastating when you have to take anyone out of the lineup — especially when it’s one of your top players.”
Cory pointed to recent 4-3 losses to No. 38 Virginia Commonwealth and No. 25 Pepperdine as prime examples.
“I think with Katy in there we definitely would have beaten (Pepperdine),” he said. “VCU as well. We should be top-30 for sure at this point.”
Instead, Cory faces the prospect of playing at least five league matches without Williams. Led by 28th-ranked Elena Gantcheva, UNLV opens at No. 37 BYU on Friday.
“It’s never easy to play on (BYU’s) home court,” said Cory, noting the high altitude of Provo, Utah. “But it’s especially tough when you’re going at less than full strength.”
Cory said the team’s nonconference struggles haven’t seemed to diminish his players’ confidence.
“It hasn’t seemed to get to them,” Cory said. “They know we still have a good team.”