By Lauren Jimmerson
Typically, the top singles players on any tennis team lead their squad at the No. 1 and 2 spots in the lineup. For the Iowa men’s tennis team, you definitely have to dive deeper into the lineup before finding those key players.
This past spring, Josh Silverstein was pegged as the top tennis player for the Hawkeyes, playing 37 singles matches at No. 1. The senior skated under a winning record, finishing 10-11 overall, 3-6 in the Big Ten.
Silverstein struggled throughout the season and especially in his final match during the Big Ten Tournament at the Hawkeye Tennis Complex. He fought back from a first-set loss to clinch his match on the first day, but on Day 2, he couldn’t catch a free serve and was trailing Ohio State’s No. 1 player when the match was clinched by the Buckeyes.
Second in line to lead the team was freshman Piotr Smietana, who fell extremely short of grabbing a winning singles record. The Polish tennis player shone in his college début last fall, advancing to the Big Ten Indoor Championships finals with classmate Will Davies after winning three-straight matches. He also claimed three singles victories, earning himself a spot high in the Hawkeye lineup.
Head coach Ross Wilson saw something in Smietana that not even his six-match losing streak in October 2017 could change. Since January, Smietana has spent most of his time at No. 2, and he ventured to No. 3 for a couple of easy wins. The only times the freshman explored competition at No. 1, he dropped all five matches.
Being only a freshman and the potential leader for the Hawkeyes next season, Smietana has a lot of room and time for growth.
OK, yes, matchups against higher-ranked opponents should be more competitive, but Iowa should be winning more than 11 matches at No. 1 and 2 singles in a season. Luckily, six other tennis players round out the lineup, supporting the top players possibly more than they should.
Arguably, I believe redshirt sophomore Kareem Allaf and freshman Will Davies pulled the most weight on the team this season.
Allaf finished his season the strongest on the squad with a nine-match winning streak. He also went undefeated in conference matches, something the tennis squad could use higher in the lineup. He made an appearance in the national rankings, took down two nationally ranked opponents in singles, four in doubles.
In his second year, Allaf was making waves. He tied for fourth in single-season history winning 22 doubles matches and grabbed 23 singles victories as a freshman for ninth most in a single season at Iowa. If he can make that impact in the beginning of his career, I believe Allaf could be a valuable asset high in the Iowa lineup.
Without having the strongest record to show for it, Davies also made a substantial effect on the squad his first year. The native of England tied Allaf for the fourth-most doubles wins in a single season at 22 and notched his place in the national doubles rankings alongside Smietana at No. 40. He also won 16 singles matches since January, recording a season-best eight consecutive matches.
Outside of playing quality tennis, Davies became a vocal leader for Iowa. Every meet, you can hear the freshman shouting, encouraging his teammates even when they were trailing. Even in practice, Davies’ voice bounced off the walls at the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex, telling the squad to keep a positive attitude.
Personally, I could see Allaf and Davies grabbing two spots high in the Hawkeye lineup next season. The squad would only continue to get stronger with them at the forefront.