The University of Maryland men’s tennis team garnered national attention on Tuesday when the Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranked the team 38th in its preseason rankings. But it’s the possible elimination of the team that’s garnered the most attention, since that some programs could be cut due to budget constraints.
The recent ranking is just one of many of the team’s accomplishments in the last three years. When former Olympian and top assistant coach Kyle Spencer was hired in 2009 to help lead the University of Maryland men's tennis team, he said he came into a program with little funding and marginal success.
Now the team is beating ranked opponents and reaching NCAA finals.
Since coming to Maryland, Spencer has worked to bring about a culture change in the program.
"I brought in guys who were good student-athletes and would work hard," Spencer said. "Hard working guys who take a lot of pride in what they are doing."
His efforts paid off. The men's tennis team made NCAA finals in 2011 for the first time in the team's history, and they beat Florida State's powerhouse tennis team for the first time in 30 years.
This fall the doubles team won indoor regionals and went on to nationals. The men's tennis team also received last year's President's Cup, an honor awarded to UMd. athletic teams with the highest average team GPA.
"We've had our best year tennis-wise and an outstanding year academically," Spencer said.
Unfortunately for the tennis team, programs were not selected for elimination based solely on athletic performance. According to Loh's report, consideration was given to, "...the competitive success of the sport, ownership and adequacy of the University’s facilities for that sport, proximity and quality of available competition, level of spectator attendance, and the history of the sport at the University."
When Spencer learned of the cuts, he wanted to make sure his athletes knew it had nothing to do with their performances.
"You can do everything right, but someone can change your path and it is out of your control," he said.
The team was upset after hearing the news, but still very focused in practice, Spencer said.
The team kicks off its season by hosting Temple and Howard universities on Jan. 15. But now the Terps have more than competition to think about. The athletes will work with the women’s water polo team to raise $8 million by June to save their programs. .
Although Spencer is optimistic about the team's potential to raise the funds needed to save their program, his main focus now is on his athletes and making sure they are taken care of if the team is eliminated in June.
"I'd like to get a lot of transfer situations sorted so they can have a great season and semester academically if we don't hit the fundraising mark," Spencer said.
Two seniors on the team will graduate in the spring, and Spencer doesn’t think the sophomores and freshman will have difficulty with transfers. Things could be more complicated for the six juniors who will be graduating next year, having to transfer units to a new university, and decide where they will graduate, Spencer said.
"My number one focus, is to make sure the guys are taken care of so they feel that this is a different path as opposed to a disaster," Spencer said.