When five seniors take the court Saturday for No. 7-ranked TCU in a men’s tennis match against No. 10 Texas, they will have come a long way since arriving as freshmen.
Led by their fifth-year coach and former TCU star player David Roditi, seniors Nick Chappell, Will Stein, Arnau Dachs, Facundo Lugones and Blake Wiggins have lifted a once-proud program back to the top of the collegiate tennis scene.
While Saturday’s 1 p.m. match against the Longhorns will be the seniors’ final match in front of the TCU fans, the Frogs have their sights set much higher. They feel as though they have set the table for things to come.
“These guys are hungry,” said Roditi, who played on the 1996 TCU team that finished No. 3 in the nation. “That’s been their slogan. I think their hashtag is ‘Our bellies are full, but we’re still hungry’ and that’s really what it is. We’re very happy, and we like the way things have gone, but we want more.”
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TCU (19-6, 2-2 Big 12) climbed three spots in the rankings this week with a dominant 4-0 sweep over then-No. 7 Texas A&M (17-4) and has accounted for two of the Southeastern Conference champion’s four losses this season.
A victory over Texas (18-4, 2-2) would likely move the Frogs into the top five. And they have a mathematical chance to win the Big 12 title in a conference that boasts four teams ranked in the top 10, including No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Baylor, each 3-1 in conference, one win ahead of TCU and Texas.
“How scary is that?” Roditi said. “In the Big 12, we have five teams ranked in the top 16 [Texas Tech is No. 16 and defeated Oklahoma on Sunday]. Against Texas, I don’t think we have could set it up any better.
“If we had a wish list to get fans to a tennis match, it would be to have both teams ranked high, we both are. You’d need a big name school. We have it, Texas. It’s Senior Day, it’s on a Saturday at 1 o’clock, and we have the girls playing their last match before us at 10 a.m. against Texas Tech, and they have two seniors [Stefanie Tan and Simona Parajova] who have been playing No. 1 and 2 from the day they got here. It’s set up perfectly. Now we just need people to come out and enjoy it.”
And a large crowd could also play a role, thanks to a new rule in the Big 12 — dubbed the “Roditi Rule” — that allows fans to cheer, chant, yell and scream, even taunt opponents, though Roditi hopes TCU fans will be respectful. It’s a rule Roditi pushed for to help get fans involved in the sport.
“The intention of that rule is not for our fans to intentionally distract our opponents,” he said. “We don’t think that’s the way TCU wants to come across. But [the rule] was the only way to allow fans to do chants and to sing songs and to cheer during the points. ... We want to use this match against Texas as the blueprint of what an ideal college match should look like and feel like.”
A big, boisterous crowd and a victory would be a nice sendoff for Chappell and the other seniors who have led the Frogs’ resurgence.
“My freshman year, we started unranked,” said Chappell, an Indiana native who is ranked No. 44 in singles and No. 21 in doubles with Stein as his partner. “This has been a good change. As the season has gone on, I think we’ve started to realize just how good we are.”
Chappell credited the addition of three freshmen — No. 43-ranked Cameron Norrie of New Zealand, No. 47 Guillermo Nunez of Chile and Trevor Johnson of Las Vegas — with helping provide the push to the top.
“Those freshmen coming in was probably the biggest factor,” Chappell said. “They all had a high pedigree, and we knew what they could do coming into college. Cam had a really good fall [winning the regional indoor championship with Johnson]. And from playing them in practice, we knew we had something really special.”
Chappell admitted that the final home match for the seniors could get emotional.
“It think it will hit us when we’re playing,” he said. “It’s going to be fun, too. I know we’re all going to enjoy it.”
Roditi gives credit to the seniors for leading the way this season.
“Let’s not forget this group, these five seniors, have gone through a lot the last three years,” he said. “They’ve been getting the program closer to where it is now. They had a lot of very disappointing, heartbreaking losses the last two or three years. Those left a scare on them, and they want to leave college with a different taste in their mouth.
“And regardless of what happens from now on, they will be able to say that TCU was ranked in the 50s when they started and now it’s top 10 or top five, or … I don’t see why we couldn’t win a national championship.”
Rusty Hall, 817-390-7816
TCU’s Bayard H. Friedman Tennis Center
▪ No. 19 TCU women vs. No. 15 Texas Tech, 10 a.m.
▪ No. 7 TCU men vs. No. 10 Texas, 1 p.m.