FGCU Men's Tennis Team Opens Season on Saturday
by Justin Anderson, FGCU Athletics
FORT MYERS, Fla. - The No. 17 Florida Gulf Coast University men’s tennis team opens the 2006 season this Saturday against Webber International in Babson Park, Fla. After their opener, the Eagles travel to nationally ranked NAIA foe Embry-Riddle. The Eagles narrowly beat Embry-Riddle 5-4 last season during an extremely hard fought match. Embry-Riddle will be the Eagles toughest test early this season. The Eagles home season begins February 23 against South Region foe Lynn, which enters the season ranked No. 6.
The Eagles will enjoy a month of home matches from February 23 through March 20, and then it’s back out on the road to finish their schedule with weighty regional opponents such as No. 19 Eckerd and No. 6 Florida Southern. At the end of the season the Eagles will also face three nationally ranked teams in one week.
Teams are required to post a .500 winning percentage or better against Division II competition to be considered for a NCAA tournament invitation. Of those teams, the NCAA selects the top eight teams in each of eight geographical regions for the tournament.
Head coach J. Webb Horton is entering his fifth season as the men’s tennis coach. In 2005, Horton guided the Eagles to a 19-5 record and the NCAA South Region Finals. The Eagles lost to Barry University 5-3 to end their tournament run. The Eagles finished the season ranked in the national top-10 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association team rankings.
2006 FGCU Men’s Tennis Outlook
The Eagles are loaded with talent and experience this year, and are poised to continue their winning tradition. The Eagles lost a very talented player in Richard Stempnowski (’05). Last year Stempnowski finished his career as the most prolific player in FGCU history with 67 wins, a top-ten national ranking, and two straight Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-America honors. “Stempnowski was an excellent individual player, but this year’s team is better than last year,” said Horton. “Everyone has worked extremely hard to elevate their game this year.”
The 2006 team is lead by senior Juan Carlos Osorio (Quito, Ecuador), who is ranked No. 3 in the nation in Division II. This past fall, Osorio won the ITA Small College Championship for the Southeast Region, and was a finalist in the ITA Small College National Championships. “Osorio is a very special player and the team is looking to him to fill the void left by Stempnowski,” explains Horton.
Junior Alberto Gutierrez (Bogotá, Columbia) is another excellent player returning to the team. Gutierrez finished strong last season and is ranked in the top-40 nationally. Gutierrez has been bothered with some nagging injuries during preseason, and will begin this season only playing doubles until he is completely healthy.
Senior Tim Offerman (Hamburg, Germany) brings a commanding presence and veteran leadership to this year’s team. Offerman has a solid #7 ranking in the region with Osorio in doubles. Offerman and Osorio will be a force to be reckoned with in doubles play this season.
Sophomore Gavin Manders (Warwick, Bermuda) is a young player who gained much needed experience last season. “This year Gavin has a renewed focus and dedication to the game, and we are expecting big things from him,” said Horton.
Freshman sensation Danny Lee (Naples, Fla.) joins the team this year. While at Barron Collier High School, Lee won the State Championship. Lee’s hot racquet will be a welcome addition to the Eagles current arsenal.
Sophomore Chris Caswell (Lakeland, Fla.), freshmen Edson Lima (Brasilia, Brazil), and Brad Henderson (Lithia, Fla) are players to keep an eye on this season, as they are projected by Coach Horton to be “special players for the future”.
Coach Horton went on to say that the young players on this team are at an advantage because they have such veteran leadership in such a tough region in Division II.
When asked about the team’s success in the region this year, Coach Horton replied, “In order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”