SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 22, 2020) - The Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) men's tennis team finished the 2019 season in the finals of the NAIA Unaffiliated Regional Tournament falling to Texas A&M University – Texarkana. After a few matches in the fall, Head Coach Sal Castillo is expecting an improvement from last year's finish.
"We had the opportunity to play most of the teams that we will face in the conference tournament this past fall," Castillo said. "The team we will have to do well against is Texarkana, as well as Texas Wesleyan. Those are two tough teams that we are going to have to get through in order to get to nationals."
Record of success
The Saints also made it to the finals in 2018 and also fell to Texarkana. In 2017, the Saints dominated the tournament defeating John Brown University 5-0 and Texarkana 5-0 to advance to the NAIA National Championship Tournament First Round. The men faced William Woods University and lost 1-8.
OLLU competes in the unaffiliated tournament, as the Red River Athletic Conference does not sponsor tennis. Aside from Texarkana and Texas Wesleyan, the University of the Southwest also competes in the unaffiliated category. According to Castillo, "Southwest is looking to rebuild. But at this point, we are just looking at playing one match at a time and not speculating on how strong other teams are. Anybody on any given day can win."
The Saints posted a 2-3 record in the fall and begin their official spring schedule Jan. 24 at the University of the Incarnate Word. On Feb. 5, the team will play Laredo Community College and on Feb. 24, they will face St. Edward's University. On Feb. 28-29, the men will travel to Louisiana to play LSU-Alexandria and on March 8, the will face Howard Payne University. The Saints will play Texas Wesleyan University in Georgetown, Texas, and St. Mary's University in San Antonio on March 31. The team opens the regional tournament on April 24 in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Saints return four sophomores, Gabriel Braga (SO/Brasilia, DF, Brazil), Sebastian Gutierrez (SO/San Antonio, Texas), Sebastian Rodriguez (SO/San Antonio, Texas) and Vinicius Silva (SO/Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil). Their newcomers include junior Artur Etzberger (JR/Novo Hamburgo, RS, Brazil) and freshmen Carlos Chavez (FR/El Paso, Texas), Caio Ravagnani (FR/Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil) and Murilo Salviato (FR/Araras, Sao Paulo, Brazil).
In the fall, Braga earned Tennis Player of the Week for his performance at the St. Mary's University Quad Meet. He posted a 2-1 record in doubles and split a pair of singles matches.
Silva won six of his seven matches at the Texas Wesleyan Duals event in the fall. He was victorious in all three of his singles matches without dropping a set. In his doubles match, Silva won three of four matches.
Castillo commented, "Gabriel and Vinnie did well as freshmen. They've got that experience now, one year behind them. That will make a big difference going into this year."
"We've got a transfer who is going to have to fill in the gaps left by our graduates from last year. Artur Etzberger is from Brazil. He will probably play one, and I've got a couple of freshmen who are new to the team. Murilo and Caio. They are also going to have to step up their game if we are going to win this year.
"We also have Carlos Chavez, who is from my home town of El Paso, Texas. He is trying to make that transition to college tennis. It's been a little bit of a challenge for him, but I think he is going to be able to pick up is game," Castillo commented.
Joining Castillo on the coaching staff are Ross Marzetti, who played on the squad from 2015-2019, and Bernardo Pegas, who played from 2014-2017.
The team has also been very successful in the classroom, having earned the NAIA Scholar Team awards in 2019, 2018 and 2017. This past fall, the team recorded a 3.07 GPA and had seven of the nine players earn GPAs of 3.0 and above. Silva had a 3.62, while Ravagnani earned a 3.8 and Braga a 4.0.
"Well, that is the number one priority for me. The guys on the team know what my expectations are in that department as far as GPA. It exceeds that of what the NAIA requires and what the majority of other sports require. I require a 3.0. If they don't have that, they generally don't get to practice and more than likely may not be able to compete at the conference tournament.
"I think that points to the fact that we have had a high GPA [as a team] and have had a high graduation rate. That's one of the things that I am most proud of."
Castillo hopes to see Saints fans cheering the team on this season. "One thing you will see is that the team is very motivated, they are very team-oriented. They give each other a lot of support both on and off the court, and I think you will find that they give it 100 percent every time they walk onto the court. They won't be throwing their racquet or showing any kind of unsportsmanlike behavior."