Monday press conference: Pat Klingelhoets

Men's tennis coach discussed his team's struggles this season

"Well, we're struggling a little bit. You know, it's been a tough year to this point. We've lost a lot of tough matches. We're playing a lot of young guys. We've got four freshmen that have been in the lineup most of the time. And we're just trying to find a way to win.

"I guess, you know, we had a match on Saturday that was kind of typical of our season, where we basically felt like we had the match won against Penn State, where one of our freshman (Jeremy Sonkin) was up a set and 4-0 serving, and we ended up losing the match. And, you know, it just, it's tough for the guys on the team to handle that. So we're just trying to keep their heads up and keep them plugging away.

"You know, the positive things about this team are the guys, we've got a great bunch of guys that are working hard and these young guys, it's one of the best groups that I've had from that standpoint. They have been keeping a positive attitude coming back and working hard in practice and hopefully that's going to pay off for us.

"We've been competing well. We've been in almost every match. We've had a chance to win almost every match we've played. We just haven't quite gotten it done. But the guys are competing hard, and we've been competitive in those matches, and, you know, hopefully we can just get over the hump and turn that around.

"And probably the real bright spot for us has been the play of one of our freshman, Jeremy Sonkin. Jeremy's been playing two singles for us and just having a fabulous year. He's, I believe, 11-4 overall and in the No. 2 spot, 4-2 in the Big Ten. And Jeremy was the guy on Saturday that was up, way up in that match against Penn State, ended up losing the match, and, you know, felt terrible about it.

"And, you know, we were kind of worried about how he would handle that coming back Sunday against Indiana, and on Sunday he beat the guy 0 and 0 (6-0, 6-0). So that shows you a lot about his character and what he's made out of. And he's going to be a guy, I think, that we can really build a team around in the years to come here. I mean, he's just progressing at a fantastic rate, and I think has all the tools to, you know, be one of the top guys in the country here in a year or two. So I guess that's where we're at right now."

What are the strengths of Jeremy Sonkin's game then?

"He's a really big, strong kid. He's about 6-2, real well-built. He's got a huge serve and an unbelievable backhand. You know, his forehand is decent. We're trying to develop a net game. But he's just a tremendous athlete. If you see him, you'll see what I mean. You know, he's fast, big, fast, strong, and that huge serve and a huge backhand are going to take him a long ways. And a tremendous competitor."

Pat, can you teach winning or is this just something that they've got to go through and experience what they're going through right now?

"You know, it's kind of something that they've got to go through. You know, we can teach strokes, we can teach strategy, you know, we can do a lot of that, but, you know, when you're playing a lot of freshmen what happens is, you know, one day they're, you know, they're ready to play and the next day they're not quite there.

"And then they get in those tight situations, and then they just tighten up a little bit. And it's just one of those things that, you know, through experience and more matches, eventually they will get over the hump and start winning those matches. So, yeah, we're just trying to be positive with them and, you know, get the most out of them we can."

Pat, can you tell us a little bit about how you got the Kasarov brothers here from Bulgaria and the background there? And they look like a pretty good doubles team.

"Sure. Yeah, they're doing a nice job for us, singles and doubles. They're both doing a nice job. You know, Alex came to us about five years ago. We just, you know, got, started getting some e-mails from him from Bulgaria. You know, we started, you know, talking to him a little bit, and, you know, checked out his credentials a little bit.

"I gave Alex a lot of credit because what happened was, you know, we got him into school in January. You know, he'd never been here before, never been to the States. I'd never seen him. His English was so-so. And, you know, I'm calling him overseas, trying to, you know, communicate with him, which, you know, wasn't the easiest thing.

"And I told him to get on a plane and get to Chicago, and then he was going to have to take the bus from Chicago to the Union and I was going to pick him up and I was going to have some housing set for him. And, you know, he didn't know what was going on. So, you know, I pull up to the bus thing at the Union there and there he is standing out there. I mean, he doesn't know where he is, you know. It's the middle of winter and he's freezing to death, and didn't know a soul, didn't know where he was going to be staying or anything. And it's worked out great. You know, he's ended up being a tremendous kid and, you know, has done well in school.

"And then, of course, his brother was two years behind him, and so we obviously started talking to his brother, and we're real glad to get Woochezar, we call him. And he's progressing at a really nice rate. I mean, I think eventually he will be a little better than his brother. He's a little more athletic and is really, you know, doing a nice job for us. So, no, those two guys have been great guys to get over here."

Coach, with about three weekends left to go in the season, what kind of things are you looking for to move on from this season positively, or what kind of things out of those matches and out of practice that you have left this season?

"Yeah, we're just trying to just do the best we can the rest of the way and get some improvement out of these guys. We're obviously not going to get a real good seed going into the Big Ten tournament. We still feel like even if we're one of the lower seeds, you know, we'll have a shot at a first-round win in the Big Ten tournament. You know, we've been able to do that the last four years, and I think we'll have a shot at winning a first-round match there.

"But, yeah, we're just trying to get as much out of this season as we can, get as much improvement out of these guys as we can, and, you know, hopefully go into next season on a positive note. And, you know, if we can get these guys to work over the summer, I think we'll be in real good shape next year."

Coach, can you talk a little bit more specifically about your upcoming opponents, Minnesota and Rice, and how you think that your team matches up with them?

"Yeah. They're both very good teams. Minnesota, I mean, I see in the rankings, they're ranked 60, and that's a joke because they're probably a top 15 or 20 team in the country. They've had some problems up there with, well, they've got some coaching issues right now. And then they had a couple of their best players suspended for quite a while. They lost to some teams that they shouldn't have lost to.

"Now they've got those players back in the lineup, I mean, they're a tremendous team. You know, they lost 4-3 to Ohio State the other day, and Ohio State's about 9 or 10 in the country. So they're a very good team, and they're at full strength. We're going to have our hands full.

"Rice is ranked 32, and that's probably a legitimate ranking. So, yeah, it's going to be a tough weekend for us. You know, we're going to give it our best shot. If we can happen to get a win up there, it'd be fantastic."

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