BRENTWOOD, Tenn. – The Ohio Valley Conference tennis coaches have chosen the University of Tennessee at Martin to repeat as league champion, as the preseason predicted order of finish was released today by the conference office.
UT Martin, who won its sixth OVC regular season championship in program history in 2016, received 78 points in the preseason poll. The Skyhawks narrowly edged out SIUE (72 points), who upset UT Martin in the OVC Tournament championship match last spring.
“We appreciate the fact that so many coaches think so highly of our program that they voted UT Martin the No. 1 team in the conference,” said seven-time OVC Coach of the Year Dennis Taylor, who is in his 30th year at the helm of the Skyhawk tennis program. “But any of the top six teams could have just as easily been on top. Just look at Austin Peay – they have the top two ranked players in the conference and they are picked sixth in the preseason. This is the toughest I have ever seen the OVC in tennis. If we want to finish in the top-four, we must stay healthy throughout the year.”
In addition, senior Sarah Candeloro was spotlighted as the third-best returner while senior Hitomi Naito was ranked seventh on the preseason top-10 list.
Candeloro captured her second career All-OVC nod last season after notching team-highs of 20 singles wins and 18 doubles victories. The Dover, Del. native is currently 2-0 this season while playing at No. 1 singles. Last year, Naito became only the fifth player in school history to rack up three straight All-OVC honors, recording first team accolades for the second time in her storied career. The Tokyo, Japan native was undefeated (5-0) in OVC singles play while ranking second on the squad with 14 overall doubles wins in 2015-16.
“I am glad to see that Sarah and Hitomi have been picked amongst the top-10 players in the conference,” Taylor said. “They both are playing well so far this year and seem to be getting better with every match.”
The Skyhawks return seven players from last season’ team that went 13-11 overall with a 9-1 OVC slate. UT Martin is currently 0-2 this spring but had several noteworthy performances against the likes of Louisville and Middle Tennessee. The Skyhawks will officially begin its quest for another OVC championship in their league opener on March 18 when they travel to Eastern Kentucky.