HARTSVILLE, S.C. – To label what head coach Tom Simpson has done in the last two years for the men's tennis program as remarkable would be an understatement. Since taking over in 2011, Simpson has led the team to a 27-18 overall record. Last season, he led the Cobras to an 18-5 record which included a perfect 10-0 conference record, a regular season conference title, a conference tournament runner-up finish and a No. 39 national ranking at the end of the season.
"Coming off a great year last year, one of our goals is to win the conference and go to regionals," said Simpson. "We are ranked No. 35 now and would like to crack the top 20 in the nation."
Heading into their first season in the South Atlantic Conference, the Cobras find themselves as the highest-ranked SAC team in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association national rankings (No. 35). They were picked fifth in the conference's preseason poll.
"The competition will still be tough – they had four teams last year go 8-2 or better in conference," said Simpson. "However, we beat two of those teams 5-4, so we know we can compete with them."
With the regional and national ranking comes a tougher schedule, and this year will provide plenty of stiff competition for the Cobras. The year starts with Division I Winthrop University and matchups against nationally ranked Lander University (No. 7), Georgia Regents University (No. 20) and USC Aiken (No. 21). Also on the slate are Division I Liberty University and conference foes Lincoln Memorial University, Wingate University and Tusculum College, all of which are ranked in the top 50 nationally.
"We added a few of the Peach Belt Conference schools that are just ahead of us in the national rankings to go along with our already tough in-conference schedule," said Simpson. "Playing those tough schools will really show us where we stand in the regional standings. Maintaining our high regional ranking is a big priority for us, too, if we want to make it to the regional tournament and beyond."
The Cobras have already been hard at work this season as they participated in the ITA Fall Regional tournament in September. Sophomore Andre Staab advanced to the semifinals. Staab, who is the No. 14 ranked singles player in the nation, became the first Coker men's tennis player to advance that far in the tournament. The sophomore duo of Martin Moncayo and William Marrafao, who find themselves ranked No. 9 in the Southeast region for doubles, advanced to the quarterfinals.
"The thing that is so important for them is that they don't have to get a full match better; they just have to get a few points better," said Simpson. " One of our mottos is "one more." One more step, one more shot, one more point. They have to stay focused on closing out matches. If we do that, we'll have another great season."
The Cobras kick off their season Feb. 1 at home against Lander University.
Story written by media relations intern Aaron Beebe '15.