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Senior Eric Halpern cranks a serve. Halpern and the Eagles will begin their season this weekend against three local competitors: the Savannah College of Art and Design at Atlanta today and Auburn University at Montgomery (Ala.) and Oglethorpe University (Ga.) on Saturday. | Courtesy of Emory Athletics

 

The Emory men’s tennis team will hit off its spring season with three home competitions this weekend.

The squad will host the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Atlanta today and then Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM) (Ala.) and Oglethorpe University (Ga.) tomorrow, Feb. 14.

Both the SCAD Atlanta Bees and the AUM Warhawks play in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) rather than the more mainstream NCAA.

“Their teams are ridiculous,” Head Coach John Browning said. “There are kids who, for whatever reason, couldn’t go D-I. They might have accepted prize money or weren’t eligible because of grades.”

After a Sewanee: The University of the South road contest Monday, Feb. 16, the Eagles will travel to Mankato, Minnesota for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Indoor Championships. This event foreshadows the top-level competition the Eagles will face during the NCAA Championship Tournament in May.

“The [ITA] Indoor National Championship is one of the great events we have, but it’s so early in the season that I kind of use it to see where we’re at,” Browning said. “It’s the only event that allows you to get a feel for what the end of the year is going to be like.”

However, Browning was careful to point out that this stage in the season isn’t representative of the team’s final state.

“You can’t get too high or too low with these events,” he said. “We’ve lost [the ITA Indoor National Championships] and won the [NCAA] National Championships. It’s more just getting everybody experience and getting into the flow of things.”

The Eagles, who finished sixth in the NCAA last spring, showed promise during the fall season, especially when the doubles pair of senior captains Alex Ruderman and Ian Wagner finished fifth in the ITA Small College Championships.

Still, a strong fall isn’t necessarily a predictor of a successful spring, because it revolves around individual rather than team contests, Browning said.

“The fall is more to get to know the new guys on the team and establish a good team chemistry,” Ruderman said. “The spring is where we really play our team matches.”

The team is carrying seven freshmen this season, the most it has throughout Ruderman’s four years as an Eagle, he said.

“The younger guys can learn from [the seniors] in terms of how to handle the season,” Browning said. “It’s a fast paced season. It’s a lot of work and you obviously still have to work on academics.”

The team is led by three senior captains — Ruderman, Wagner and Eric Halpern — who were freshman members of the 2012 National Champion Emory team.

“We’re the three guys who won it in 2012, and we’re doing the best we can to work with the younger guys and make sure we get another shot this year,” Halpern said.

One of the freshmen in particular, Scott Rubinstein, has a strong shot at earning a starting spot on the team.

“Scott Rubinstein had a really good fall and he’s a very talented player,” Browning said. “He’s going to help a lot.”

With the addition of Rubinstein and the other six new players, the team is confident going into the 2015 season.

“We got a good group of freshmen,” sophomore Andrew Lo said. “We worked really hard in the fall, and it seems like our results are showing in practice now. Our goal is to win the [NCAA] National Championship, and I think we can do it this year.”