MIAMI SHORES, Fla. -- When assistant coach Thomas Hipp took the Buccaneers men’s tennis team to a preseason day at the beach in Key Biscayne, it was symbolic of this year’s team.
The idea in mind is to blend together no matter where they are. That’s what Barry University men’s tennis is all about in 2013.
“What we’re really trying to focus on a lot this year is the chemistry and the interaction with the team on and off the tennis courts,” said head coach George Samuel, who’s been with the program for 22 years. “We’re trying to get them to feel that team spirit, to make them focus as a unit.”
Last year, the Buccaneers missed out on an opportunity to advance to the national championship match for the first time in four years when some slip-ups during the season pushed them into a tough NCAA South Regional against rival Lynn.
Barry lost to Lynn, 5-2, in the regional championship, ending the Bucs season. This year, the Buccaneers have a business agenda in mind: making it back to nationals.
This year's quest for a trip to the NCAA Championships begins Saturday in Melbourne, Fla., as Barry opens the season at Florida Tech. The Bucs are ranked No. 4 in the nation.
“At the end, we win as a team,” junior Leo Vivas said. “There’s more chemistry on the team. We changed our philosophy. It was more about individual accomplishments last year. Now it’s all about the team. The idea at the end of the season is to win a championship as a team.”
Barry finished last season with a 22-6 record, and won the Sunshine State Conference championship, beating Lynn, 5-2 in the finals.
But they lost some matches they weren’t accustomed to dropping in recent years, and the absence of senior Max Wimmer didn’t make matters easier.
“Obviously, there was some disappointment last year with the absence of our senior Max Wimmer,” Samuel said. “Him not being here hurt us significantly. It was real exciting to know Max would come back to pursue his master’s degree and the NCAA would grant him the extra year.
“With Max being back, and the addition of Alejandro Andino, Eduardo Alfonzo and Renato Lombardi, we have a lot more talent. With four new players coming into the lineup, we’re very, very talented and extremely deep.”
Wimmer is a three-time All-American in doubles. Senior Marco Mokrzycki is a two-time All-American, and returns following a season in which he went 14-5 at No. 1 singles and 21-6 in doubles play.
Sophomore Fabian Groetsch, who joins Wimmer and Mokrzycki to give Barry three elite German players, went 16-7 in singles to earn All-American honors. Vivas also collected All-American honors in doubles after finishing last year with an 18-9 record.
Junior Ollie Lemaitre was 13-1 in singles and 21-5 in doubles. Junior Romain Costamagna went 13-9 in singles and 17-9 in doubles. Sophomore Kevin Sielmann was 10-6 in singles and 4-0 in doubles in his first year of college tennis. Sophomore Dominic Bisceglia also returns for another year after going 1-1 last season.
“I think our doubles teams are stacking up really, really strong,” assistant coach Kern Pedersen said. “It’s the strength of our team right now. It’s a maturity that’s come into it.
“What Max did over the summer, he played against top German players, and he’s really matured.”
With 14 players on this year’s team -- the most ever for a Barry tennis squad -- playing time will be hard to come by. Some may be relegated to playing strictly singles or doubles on certain days. But that’s OK with the Bucs, who added two additional coaches in assistant Frederic Bonal and graduate assistant Francisco Siguad to give Barry one of the largest men's tennis staff's in the country.
“It doesn’t matter if we are playing or not, we need to support the team,” Sielmann said. “Our final goal is to win as a team. It doesn’t matter if we are in the lineup or not.”
This year, it’s a lineup with a lot of possibilities.
“I think we’ve got three guys that can play in the top three, and we’re extremely talented all the way through the lineup,” Samuel said. “This is exciting. There’s an energy there. There’s a belief that we can achieve some things this year.”
Samuel, himself, is nearing another milestone. With three wins this season, he will collect his 400th career victory.
But the Bucs have more in mind.
“We have a lot more match confidence,” Vivas said. “I feel with the combination of everyone’s talent, we should be much better.”