- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Lev Facher, Daily Sports Writer
Published June 5, 2013
For most teams, losing the lone senior from an eight-man roster wouldn’t be quite so tumultuous. But with Evan King, the face of the Michigan men's tennis team throughout the better part of his four-year college career, a loss could prove to be quite crippling.
But it could also prove to create a stronger squad as a result.
A May 25 loss to Tulsa’s Japie De Klerk in the NCAA quarterfinals marked the end of King’s career as a Wolverine, and left him with an all-time singles record of 116-34. He also holds the all-time Michigan record for combined wins: 195 combined singles and doubles victories. Thanks in part to a 23-1 tear during the dual-match section of the Wolverines’ 2013 campaign.
Unsurprisingly, he was never short on accolades — the Chicago native was named Big Ten Athlete of the Year in his sport for his junior and senior seasons and earned a spot on the ITA All-America squad three times.
King, along with gymnast Katie Zurales, was also presented on last week with the Ernest T. Sigler award, a prize given to the best male and female athletes at Michigan from the Greater Chicago area.
Despite King's heroics, there’s no doubt that the Wolverines have work to do as a team; they were collectively bounced from the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the hands of Virginia Tech, a round in which King earned Michigan’s only singles victory.
The Wolverines’ eight-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances are nothing to sneeze at, but Michigan coach Bruce Berque is sure to look for improved team results in 2014.
Without King, Berque will turn to his three rising seniors for experience and leadership. Shaun Bernstein looks to retain his spot as captain, a mark that he made sure he deserved for his efforts both on and off the court. A student in the Ross School of Business, Bernstein was recently named to the Academic All-Big Ten team for the spring athletic season.
In addition to Bernstein, rising seniors Barrett Franks and Alex Buzzi will be asked to step up to fill the void left by King.
The trio of Franks, Buzzi and Bernstein can expect to get help from rising junior Vlad Stefan, a Romanian import who, despite posting a 16-20 overall record in 2013, beat his teammate, King, in a late-October matchup and advanced to the final of the ITA Regionals in East Lansing.
Michigan's 16-10 team record suffered from close losses to No. 12 Pepperdine, No. 14 California and No. 21 Texas, all of which were decided by a score of 4-3. King’s absence might mean that Michigan picks up wins in matchups between each team’s top-ranked player less often, but a more experienced Wolverine team can expect to see more consistent success down the line in singles slots two through six.
Michigan’s added experience level should result in the Wolverines putting themselves in a better position to win those 4-3 contests, in which the seven points are awarded between six matchups in singles competition and one in doubles play.
The pairing of Bernstein and Franks can expect to be the Wolverines’ top doubles squad, while Buzzi finds himself in search of a new partner in the wake of King’s graduation.
The Bernstein-Franks duo, though, will benefit from the experience of spending another full year playing together, and the dropoff in doubles competition — a strong point in 2013 for the Wolverines — should be small, if there’s any dropoff at all.
While King’s play consistently provided the team’s highlights, the results from the rest of the squad were largely unexceptional or unsupportive for the most part. In 2014, play should be much more even from top to bottom, and a substantial improvement in record and tournament results, despite losing King, would come as no surprise.