Men’s tennis strives to replace four top players from last year

Webster University junior Wakeel Rahman hits a forehand during a March 3 match at the Webster Groves Tennis Center. Rahman helped the Gorloks earn a 6-3 win over Lindenwood University-Belleville and an 8-1 win over Dominican University. PHOTO BY MACKENZIE WILDER.

The Webster University men’s tennis team will have a different look this season. Four of the starters from last season are not returning. Ryan Fassler, Adis Beganovic and Zack Papes graduated, while junior Agustin Villalba is studying abroad.

Juniors Diego Alarcon and Ricky Eaves are the returning starters. Coach Michael Siener is counting on newcomers and returning juniors to fill the voids.

“Adding (junior) Francisco (Cortez) here, he will help us at the top and keep our top three similar to what we’ve had the last few years with Ricky, Diego and Francisco,” Siener said. “(Junior Josh) Sellmeyer will play right there in the middle. This will be a key year for him. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him to win at the four spot.”

At the five and six spots, Siener will use freshman Josh Papes and juniors Wakeel Rahman and Dustin Thode.

“At the back end, we’re very inexperienced,” Siener said. “If those guys can play well at the back end, I think we’ll be just fine.”

In the first matches of the spring season on March 5, Webster defeated Lindenwood University-Belleville 6-3 and Dominican University 8-1.

In singles play, Cortez won both his matches at No. 1. Eaves, in the No. 2 slot, lost his first match to Lindenwood-Belleville, but won against Dominican. Alarcon and Sellmeyer both won their two matches at 3 and 4, respectively. Papes lost both his matches at No. 5, and Rahman lost his first match but won his second in the No. 6 slot.

Webster won all its doubles matches. Cortez and Alarcon won at No. 1, Eaves and Papes won at No. 2 and Sellmeyer and Thode won at No. 3.

Last season, Webster finished 13-6 overall and 4-1 in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The team’s lone conference loss came to Westminster College, 8-1. Westminster would go on to sweep the Gorloks 5-0 in the SLIAC championship as well.

“I’m just ready to beat Westminster because that’s what all these guys are ready to do,” Cortez said. “It’s tough because they always seem to get in our head, apparently. I’ve played them once. They’re pretty cocky guys. If we all just don’t get mad at ourselves and stay calm, I think we’ll be able to beat them.”

In order to beat Westminster and the rest of their SLIAC opponents, the Gorloks will have to bring their games up to another level, especially the returning starters.

“Diego, if he’s going to play No. 1, he’s got to step up his game,” Siener said. “Same way with Rick. It’s going to take some pressure off the guys at the back end. They’ve got a ton of experience. They should be carrying the load.”

The Gorloks will also need victories out of the five and six singles spots.

“I think it’s going to be key for Dustin and Wakeel,” Siener said. “It’s time. They’ve been waiting two years to get some playing time. Well, they’re going to get it this spring. We’re going to see what they can do.”

While Westminster is the preseason favorite, the Gorloks look to make the SLIAC tournament as they do year in and year out.

“We’ve been in the top three the past three or four years,” Siener said. “I think with the subtraction of Agustin — I know some other teams have added new players — it’s going to be a battle for the top four spots. It has been the last two years. It’s been really close.”

Westminster has won the SLIAC five out of the last six years. Webster is hoping to win its first SLIAC championship.

“They always have it,” Cortez said. “But hopefully, this year we’re confident enough and we can take them.”

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