Lehigh tennis aims to beat preseason projection of fourth place

Lehigh junior Jamie Campisi sets up to return a serve during the varsity tennis team's practice in the Lewis Tennis Center on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. The team looks to impove on its fourth place ranking in the Patriot League. (Michael Lopinto/B&W photo)

Lehigh junior Jamie Campisi sets up to return a serve during a women’s tennis team’s practice in the Lewis Tennis Center on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. The team looks to improve on its fourth place ranking in the Patriot League. (Michael Lopinto/B&W photo)

Wouter Hendrix has a clear message for all teams that he coaches. He’s striving for success.

“We start every season playing for a title,” he said.

For Hendrix, coaching both Lehigh men’s and women’s tennis can come with two entirely different mindsets. But going into this year’s spring season, both teams have been labeled fourth best in the Patriot League by polls that ask head coaches and sports information directors around the league for their opinions. Hendrix is trusting both of his teams to prove that they can exceed the expectations that have been laid out for them.

In the case of both polls, Boston University, Army West Point and Navy are projected to finish ahead. Speaking about these top three rival schools and adding Bucknell University to the mix, Hendrix considered it an honor to be able to compete with such talented coaches and programs. He said he’s looking forward to the always electric tournament matches.

Coming off of a season in which it made the Patriot League semifinals for the first time since 2009, this year’s women’s team will be comprised of an eight-player roster without any seniors. But even though the team lacks experience in age, Hendrix has noticed that his players have developed a mental toughness through a plethora of match experience.

Junior captain Jamie Campisi is the unquestioned leader of the team as she embarks on her third season as a Mountain Hawk. With her involvement in Student Athletes Leading Social Change and her ability to consistently post the highest GPA on the team, Hendrix described her as “the epitome of what student athletes at Lehigh should strive to be.”

After a successful Patriot League tournament last year, Campisi is convinced that she will be able to lead this year’s team farther. She said she’s confident that all eight players have bought in to everything she has been preaching.

“Tennis players often think about their individual game,” Campisi said. “But on this team everybody knows they are playing for a greater cause.”

For the men’s side, this season will be a chance to rebound after a disappointing loss in last year’s Patriot League quarterfinals. Additionally, two of the team’s top players from last year have graduated. However, it has added four talented freshmen in Christopher Austeri, Sam Bencheghib, Bryant Born and George Cooper. The strong group of newcomers has been rated as a top-30 class among mid-major colleges.

In total, the roster will feature a large 13-player group.

“There is quite a bit of competition for spots, so every practice counts,” Hendrix said. “Every minute counts.”

However, the competition in practice to play for a starting spot is not the only advantage of a bigger group. Both Hendrix and the team captains agree that having depth is a great way to combat any unforeseen injury problems if they should appear.

Senior captain Jeremy Kochman has dealt with such problems recently as he continues his return to form after suffering a back injury in September. Kochman, an all-league selection last year, returns for his last year as a Mountain Hawk hoping to leave his legacy by instilling a good team culture. The team’s other captain, senior Ricardo Prince, is working with the younger members to ensure their play is peaking at the right time.

“We’ve challenged ourselves more than ever before to focus on all the details of being successful as a team,” Kochman said.

The women’s team will host University of Delaware on Feb. 3 at 5 p.m. to begin the season, while the men’s team will be home against Drexel University on Feb. 6 at 2 p.m.

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