Boca Raton, FL - Taylor Albrecht had big shoes to fill when he became a member of the Florida Atlantic University men's tennis team last year. Replacing Marc Abdenour would be no small task. After all, Abdenour was a four-year player and the Owls' all-time record holder in career singles (88) and total victories (149), while also representing Syria in Davis Cup competition in 2011.
Albrecht is putting his own stamp on the FAU program. The Sarasota, Fla., native and University of North Florida transfer had one of the best seasons in history, losing just one match last spring. He quickly made a name for himself in the Sun Belt Conference, earning all-league honors as a singles and doubles player in his first season.
Now, Albrecht is preparing to continue that success in the fall season, starting with play in the prestigious State of Florida Men's Tennis Championships on September 14-16 in Gainesville.
Albrecht posted the fourth highest singles winning percentage (.821) in FAU tennis history with a 23-5 overall record. He also defeated four nationally ranked opponents and had just three matches go into a third set - losing the second set in a singles match on only three occasions during the 2012 season. He ended last season ranked 16th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Southeast region for singles and 10th in doubles with partner, sophomore Will Neuner. The duo defeated the 19th-ranked doubles team in this season's preseason rankings from Florida State University last fall.
This season he will begin his senior campaign ranked 105th in the nation in singles and earned an automatic berth into the qualifying round in next month's All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla. Albrecht and Neuner also earned a berth into the qualifying round in the prestigious event.
"I wanted to come in and contribute to the team's success by putting together the best year I could," noted Albrecht. "Last year was amazing for me personally. I have goals set for this year that I'm going to have work hard to meet."
Those goals include earning regional and national rankings in singles and doubles. He also wants to help lead the Owls to a SBC title and a trip to the NCAA tournament. Neuner was another newcomer who made a big impact for the FAU men's tennis program last year. He quickly developed chemistry on the court with Albrecht to establish themselves among the top doubles teams in the SBC.
"Last year, we were laid back on the court when we play together in doubles. Hopefully, we'll be a little more assertive this season," said Neuner. "Taylor and I came together after persevering through a lot of adversity in matches last season. There were times when we were down in the match, but we wouldn't be defeated. We found a way to come back and won the match."
Communication was also a key factor for Albrecht in the team's success last season.
"Will and I talk about what our strategy should be prior to each point," said Albrecht. "You will see other teams give hand signals on their court to put themselves in the best position to win the point. However, we like to talk and get immediate feedback. That helps us move on from losing those hard-fought points and going ahead to win the next one."
Head Coach Brandon Stokes sees how two different playing styles have combined into one of the Sun Belt Conference's top doubles teams.
"Their strengths offset each other's weaknesses," noted Stokes. "Will is a fiery competitor on the court, while Taylor is focused and sticks to a game plan. This chemistry blends well on the court and makes them a strong doubles combination."
"Taylor has a lot of self-confidence that he can excel in anything he strives to do," said Stokes, entering his fifth season in leading the FAU program. "His teammates know that they can count on Taylor to play his best on game day."
Stokes added: "Taylor has pre-match routines this night before competition that helps him focus on what he needs to do when on the court. Then, on match day he is impervious to distractions and wanting to do everything to help out his teammates."
In fact, according to Albrecht, he plays his best when matched up against top-notch competition. That's why he excelled last year against regionally ranked opponents. And, he's looking forward to the challenge this season.
"Everybody in college tennis hits the ball the same," stated Albrecht. "The mental aspect of the game is where matches are decided. I feel that mental preparation and presence is a big part of tennis."
Albrecht and Neuner are a core group of strong players that form the 2012-13 FAU team. Sophomore Chris Janssen tallied a 17-13 singles record last season, including 12 victories at the No. 2 position. Other returnees are sophomores Sean Bacha and Robert Dubuque.
After the State of Florida Tennis Championships, the Owls will compete at the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational in Fort Myers from September 28-30; the ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla., from September 28 through October 4; and the ITA Southeast Regional in Tallahassee from October 18-22. Team members will also play in clay court tournaments as part of the USA Future's Events in Pensacola, on October 29; Niceville, on November 5; and Bradenton, on November 12.