LSU men’s tennis is still a growing, middle-of-the-pack team in one of the best conferences of the collegiate tennis world. However, all the pieces are in place for this team to explode and contend for an SEC title or more.
In 2017, LSU was coming off a 10-17 season with demoralizing losses to teams like North Florida, Santa Clara and Rice. They decided to go in a new direction, signing Andy and Chris Brandi to coach the team.
In the Brandis’ debut year, the team didn’t do much better, sporting basically the same record of 10-16. Despite this, they brought in the 21st-best recruiting class in the country, which would come into play the next season.
Eleven games into the 2018-2019 season, the Tigers matched their previous season’s win total, then surpassed it with a sweep of Jackson State. They ranked as high as 18th in the nation but came back down to earth when they reached conference play, losing nine of their last 13 to finish the season 16-11.
It was an improvement nonetheless, as they flipped their record from the previous season. They would also bring in the 14th-best recruiting class, which included No. 1 blue-chip recruit Ronald Hohmann.
We all know what happened next, with the pandemic disrupting the 2019-2020 season right as conference play began. It at least gave us a glimpse of what the team would look like and who would have an impact over the next few years.
The team finished with a 10-6 record, ending the season with questionable losses versus Kentucky and Memphis. A positive to consider was that over half the singles and doubles starters were underclassmen.
Ronald Hohmann took on a big role for a freshman, starting both singles and doubles. He took Court 2 in singles, where he notched impressive wins, including one against a Top-50 opponent.
“I like a challenge,” Hohmann said regarding his role. “I think that it will only help me going forward.”
Along with Hohmann, freshman Tomas Descarrega also started for singles, and sophomore Boris Kozlov has picked up multiple top-50 wins in his first two years as a Tiger. But they also struggled to remain composed at times due to their experience, which cost them matches.
Chris Brandi understands the challenges of having young guys take on big roles so early. He acknowledged that though the younger players have talent, they lack experience, and, for this team to work, they needed strong leadership from their seniors.
Rafael Wagner, Joey Thomas and Malik Bhatnagar have done a great job building the younger guys’ wisdom and composure, according to Brandi.
“They do a great job of mentoring the young guys,” Brandi said. “That’s why I think the young guys will be fine. They’ve gotten good mentorship, and they’re good players.”
Along with the improvement they’ve accomplished through their leaders, the younger players are also motivated to get better due to competition. With a recruiting class that features four potential stars, the starting jobs will be more difficult to hold.
“We’ll have 11 guys, and there’s going to be a lot of competition,” Brandi said. “That’s fun as coaches, but these guys are fighting for playing time.”
With the team’s improvement in win total over the past few seasons, multiple strong recruiting classes and a depth chart filled with talented, motivated players, there’s a lot of hope that this team will soon be great. We’ll just have to wait and see.