LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- The Covenant men's tennis team is looking to put its struggles of the last few years behind them when they begin a new season on Saturday against Gadsden State. The match was slated to be played on campus, but because of less than ideal weather on Saturday it has been moved to McCallie School in Chattanooga and will start at 2 p.m.
Head coach John Hirte expects improvement from his young team, and believes his newcomers are ready to make an impact: "I am excited about the guys this year. We brought a good freshman class in that is ready to work hard and, hopefully, we can see that bear fruit this year."
Cox has already made an impact, competing in the UTC Steve Baras Fall Classic in September. Against Division I competition, Cox impressed by defeating a player from Murray State before performing admirably in falling to a player from Eastern Kentucky and one from Belmont.
Joining Cox at the fall classic was sophomore Michael O'Brien, Covenant's returning No. 1 singles player. O'Brien collected a couple of victories during the tournament and paired with Cox to pick up a doubles victory against a duo from Jacksonville State.
Hirte has tabbed O'Brien as his top returner and expects him to be competitive and have a solid season this year. Covenant's other top returners are senior Roy Anderson, sophomore Connor Shimmel, and junior Nathan Hernandez. "All three players saw significant action last year, which gave them a lot of match experience," Hirte said. "I believe that will serve them well this year."
The combination of experience and talented freshmen coming in has Hirte thinking the Scots could surprise a few people with their play this year.
"We are a lot deeper than we were last year," Hirte added. "We lost several close matches last year and now we are ready to turn those losses into wins. I think we can come out of nowhere be above .500 this year. That is definitely within the realm of possibility."
After Saturday's match, Covenant will have a week off before facing regional foes Birmingham Southern and Millsaps. The Scots will also face non-conference foes Berry, Sewanee, Oglethorpe, Point and Lynchburg.
USA South play begins March 6 at Greensboro. Covenant was picked to finish seventh in the league's preseason poll after placing ninth in the final regular season standings last season. Covenant will host the top two teams (N.C. Wesleyan and Methodist) in the preseason poll in late March.
Continued Hirte, "Overall, I am excited for the season ahead. We have guys who are solid tennis players who are good for our program."