UNLV men’s tennis player Elliot Wronski cannot forget his last trip to Idaho, and he doesn’t particularly want to.
The Rebels were embarrassed by Boise State in the ITA West Regional Playoffs last January, a fact that is motivating the UNLV junior as his team prepares to return to the event this weekend.
“We’re very, very pumped up,” said Wronski, whose team fell to the Broncos 4-0 in the 2007 regional. “Last year we didn’t quite know what to expect and we were relatively young. This year we have more of an idea of what’s to be expected.”
The Rebels qualified for the elite event, which annually features the top four teams in the region, by posting strong individual performances in the Rebel Classic at the Darling Tennis Center in November.
Wronski, from Cheltenham, England, said his team earned its spot into the prestigious field, which also will include Mountain West Conference rivals Utah and New Mexico.
“I believe we deserve our place there,” he said. “It took a lot of hard work to get there, and we want to go further into the tournament this year. We’ve just been a little unlucky the last couple of years because we’ve qualified fourth, which means we have to play the No. 1 team.”
The Rebels again will face that obstacle, but Wronski said he doesn’t mind. In fact, he’s not sure what to expect, as possible NCAA rules violations could sideline the Broncos’ top two players.
“If that happens, my expectations are very much to exert my authority,” he said. “If those two guys do play, it’s not the end of the world. It will just be a bit more of a challenge. At the end of the day, I feel like I can beat pretty much anyone in the college circuit.”
That type of confidence was the driving force behind Wronski’s success last year. He went 20-13 in his first season at the top spot in the lineup, leading the Rebels to a Mountain West Conference Tournament championship and their first NCAA postseason berth since 1999.
Fifth-year UNLV coach Owen Hambrook said Wronski’s leadership will be the key to his team’s continued success.
“Elliot has dropped out of the (national) rankings because he didn’t have any ranked wins in the fall,” said Hambrook, who noted that Wronski opened the season ranked 27th nationally. “But he’s a team guy and he’s going to be fine. He’s matured so much and he’s really taken on the role as captain. When he speaks, the guys listen.”
Wronski said he enjoys being the team’s mentor.
“I really relish my leadership role, almost more than the actual tennis,” he said. “Sometimes the younger guys need a little bit of guidance, and even the older guys can need a little assurance.”
Though Hambrook likes his team’s chances behind Wronski’s leadership, he said a victory Saturday will not come easily.
“We are the underdogs,” he said. “Boise State has, in my opinion, the best team they’ve ever had.”
And the Broncos will have the added advantage of hosting the match at the Boas Tennis Complex, where opponents historically have struggled.
“It’s very difficult to play in that bubble,” Hambrook said. “On the other hand, it’s a good opportunity for us to play a highly ranked team. I don’t think we have anything to lose.”
Wronski agreed, but refused to accept the idea that the Rebels could lose.
“I see (Hambrook’s) point,” Wronski said. “They are a good team. But if we were to win that match, it would give the team so much confidence. You can’t buy or teach that kind of confidence. I’m going to talk to the guys and tell them that.”