Green Wave Exceeds Expectations

TULANEGREENWAVE.COM Head coach Robert Klein earned Conference USA Coach of the Year honors as he led the Green Wave to another exceptional season.
Head coach Robert Klein earned Conference USA Coach of the Year honors as he led the Green Wave to another exceptional season.

June 19, 2001

NEW ORLEANS, La. - In January, Tulane men's tennis coach Robert Klein was guardedly optimistic about his upcoming season.

"We have a couple of guys coming in for this semester who could help us compete for the conference title," the Green Wave mentor said at the time. "And if Michael Kogan can keep playing the way he has, we could be pretty good."

Well, Kogan continued his superb play right through the spring, and the pair of newcomers were stalwarts in the Wave lineup. In addition, Tulane's veterans stepped up their games and the Green Wave had one of its more successful seasons in the modern era.

As a team, Tulane won the Conference USA Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth year in a row, upsetting No. 29 Baylor in the first round. The Wave's final national ranking was No. 34.

Individually, the Wave had a pair of All-Americans and three all-conference selections. Kogan, in just his first year of playing collegiate tennis, was an instant star. The hard-hitting rookie earned Conference USA Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors. And then in the post-season, he outdid himself, advancing to the quarterfinals of the NCAA singles draw to earn All-America honors and complete his season ranked No. 30 in the nation.

"Michael's performance this season was everything I could have asked for," the Conference USA Coach of the Year said. "He battled an injury throughout much of the year, but when it was on the line, he always stepped up. I think playing with Mikko Viljanen in doubles also helped him because of Mikko's experience here at Tulane."

Kogan and Viljanen were dominant in doubles play, cruising to a 19-1 record in dual match play for the season. Viljanen earned all-league second team honors while the pair collected Doubles All-America accolades after earning a national seed for the NCAA post-season tournament. The duo closed the year as the No. 6 ranked doubles tandem in the nation.

"Mikko was a very under-rated player for us this season," Klein pointed out. "In doubles, I think people thought of Michael as the star, but Mikko was just as important. And in singles play, Mikko really came on in the postseason. Not only did he win the clinching match of our conference championship, but he played a gutsy match in the NCAAs and beat a guy who had defeated him three times before. That was the difference in us getting that win over Baylor."

In January, however, Viljanen and Kogan were known commodities. The difference in the season likely came with the arrival of sophomores Victor Romero and Jorge Lievano.

Romero opened the season at No. 3 singles, but wound up as a key cog at No. 2, while also filling in adeptly for Kogan at No. 1. For the season, he posted a 19-3 record and he was also the only member of the Wave to earn wins in both NCAA matches. In Tulane's loss to No. 4 TCU in the second round of the NCAAs, Romero had a singles win and teamed with Lievano for a doubles triumph. The smooth-playing Romero closed his debut season with the No. 91 ranking in the nation, while also earning First Team All-Conference USA recognition.

"Vic was clearly a big addition to our lineup," Klein said. "As the season progressed, he just kept getting better. I think we could see some great things from him in the future."

Lievano, meanwhile, filled a much-needed role for the Wave at No. 4 singles, while teaming with Romero to form a potent doubles combination.

"I was a bit disappointed that Jorge did not get all-conference honors," Klein said. "He had as much to do with us winning that championship as anyone. He will be another key for us next season."

Rounding out the Green Wave lineup this year were senior Derya Rose, sophomore Mattias Westerberg and freshman Goran Vasiljevic.

Rose and Westerberg rotated in the Nos. 5 and 6 slots in the rotation for much of the season, while also teaming up in doubles action. Westerberg had his finest moments in the conference tournament, picking up a pair of victories to spark the Wave. Vasiljevic showed flashes of brilliance, especially late in the season as he acclimatized himself to the collegiate game. He is expected to be a factor next season.

Tulane's season was a definite success, but it may be characterized by its near misses. Despite posting an impressive 16-9 record with a schedule which included 20 nationally-ranked matches, five of the losses came by 4-3 scores. And the "Near Miss" clincher came in the NCAAs with the loss to TCU, a 4-2 decision.

"When we won the doubles point, I think we had them on their heels a bit," Klein said. "But they are ranked No. 4 in the nation, and they deserve that. They had a little more depth in their singles play than we did and it helped that they were on their home court.

"My goal is to continue to build Tulane's program to reach a position where every team in the nation fears playing us. I think we have done well in recent years and this past season we showed a lot of heart and tenacity on the court. This was a great bunch of guys who worked hard. It was another step towards being a national-level tennis program."