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Men’s Tennis: Cajuns welcome the Classic Challenge

Bruce Brown, The Advertiser, September 22, 2015



UL’s Edgar Lopez plays in a match against Kevin Lee of the University of Kentucky during the Cajun Tennis Classic at UL Thursday, September 18, 2014, in Lafayette, La.(Photo: Leslie Westbrook, The Advertiser)


How long has it been since a Ragin’ Cajun won the Cajun Classic tennis event?

Put it this way — no one competing in this week’s showcase at Cajun Courts was alive the last time it happened.

Taking it a step further, current UL coach Mark Jeffrey was four years away from his arrival as a player at Mississippi State that signaled the start of a much-decorated career with the Bulldogs.

Tarek El Sakka was the victor in 1984, cementing his legacy as the most gifted player in school history. He was also the only Cajun to win the Classic.

That’s what happens when you invite the best tennis players in the land to your place in the early fall. By definition, it is a challenging tournament for anyone to win.

Most years, the Cajuns chalk up the weekend as a valuable learning experience. But there’s always the hope it could be more than that.

Jeffrey welcomes the challenge the Classic presents, especially since he likes the looks of this year’s UL squad.

Senior forehand masters Jake Wynan and Edgar Lopez lead the way, with freshman Frenchman Arthur Libaud expected to have an immediate impact. Coleman Wahlborg, Will Huyton, Vlad Kramarov and LSU transfer Eric Perez offer strong games in support.

“This is one of the best teams I’ve had,” Jeffrey said. “The key is that we’re strong at the top. Our top three can compete against anyone in the Top 50 in the country. That top three is the strongest I’ve ever had.

“I’ve been strong at the top before, but really heavy at the bottom. This is my first top-heavy team.”

Wynan and Lopez are the keys.

“They have developed into very hard workers,” Jeffrey said. “They’ve learned a lot of lessons. The strongest got stronger. They’re very fit and coachable, and I enjoy working with them a lot.

“It is uncommon for a player to stay for his senior year, and that’s big because when you lose your No. 1 you really lose two spots in your lineup because everyone has to move up a spot.”

So continuity should help the Cajuns this year, and seniors could benefit in the Classic.

“Seniors know that you have to earn your stripes to play in this tournament,” Jeffrey said. “Playing in it is a privilege. If you win matches in the Classic, that’s pretty darned good. Our seniors have a chance to do that.”

In theory, so do other Cajuns, such as Libaud. Georgia’s Wayne Montgomery won last year’s Classic as a freshman. But experience can help.

The tournament features four of the top 8 programs in the nation (Oklahoma, TCU, Southern Cal, Georgia) as well as Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, LSU and host UL.

Play begins Thursday and will conclude Sunday.

If a Cajun player is in action on the final day, this team could be even better than Jeffrey thought.

Cajun Tennis Classic

Sept. 24-27 at UL’s Cajun Courts

Sponsor: Moss Motors

Admission: $10 adults ($50 VIP); Free, 12-under

Times: 9 a.m. Thursday (two rounds of singles); 9 a.m. Friday (singles, two rounds of doubles); Noon, Saturday, Sunday.

Teams (final 2015 ITA ranking): Oklahoma (2), TCU (4), Southern Cal (7), Georgia (8), Ole Miss (17), Oklahoma State (29), LSU (30), UL.

2014 Champion: Wayne Montgomery, Georgia