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Quigley looks to bag individual record, shift focus to talented team

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Eric Quigley is six wins away from becoming the winningest singles player in UK men's tennis history. (UK Athletics) Eric Quigley is six wins away from becoming the winningest singles player in UK men's tennis history. (UK Athletics)
Eric Quigley has a nickname around the practice courts at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex given to him by associate head coach Cedric Kauffmann.

It may not be the catchiest or cleverest of monikers, but it's certainly a fitting one.

"Coach Kauffmann says, 'Eric's just a winning machine,' " head coach Dennis Emery said. "I think that's a really good way to describe him."

Quigley has spent much of his junior year and the early portion of his senior season on an unending charge up Kentucky's all-time singles wins list, and it's nearly complete. He currently sits in third place in UK men's tennis history with 139 career victories, two shy of Jesse Witten for second place and six away from breaking Paul Varga's mark, which has stood since 1985.

Since this weekend's Southeastern Conference Coaches Indoor Championships is just the second match of the spring tennis season, it is seemingly just a matter of time before Quigley cements himself as the preeminent winner in the storied history of the program.

Since it has become clear that the record was within reach, Quigley set his sights on breaking it. However, he sees it as merely a step along the way in what he hopes will be a fitting end to a decorated career.

"I don't know want to expect," Quigley said. "I know I'm close but I'm just trying to get better. It's a goal of mine, but there are many other goals. I'm just trying to stay focused and I'm sure I'll look back when I'm done here at Kentucky."

For so long, his chase has been a footnote in any press clippings about his team, even during the Wildcats' run to the quarterfinals of last year's NCAA Tournament. Quigley is ready to put the record in his back pocket and get back to just being the No. 1 singles player on a great team.

"It would be nice to get it out of the way so I can focus on the team and my other goals," Quigley said.

In fact, the majority of Quigley's goals are centered on his team.

UK set a school record a season ago with 29 wins before losing to USC in the Elite Eight. Four of six players in the rotation that led the Wildcats to a final national ranking of No. 8 return, earning the No. 7 spot in the preseason Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll.

Additionally, Kentucky is the only school in the nation with all six of its projected rotation players ranked. Quigley checks in at No. 5, Alex Musialek at No. 13, Anthony Rossi at No. 36, Panav Jha at No. 85, Tom Jomby at No. 95 and Alejandro Gomez at No. 111.

"We've had tons of great teams, but this team, there are no holes one through six," Quigley said. "If we can get our doubles together, I think we'll be in real good shape going into the season."

The Wildcats are coming off a successful fall indoor season that did nothing but add to the hopes coming into the spring that UK could advance to the Final Four for the first time, yet the team is unfazed.

"I think there are quite a few expectations, but we're all pretty hungry and not satisfied with how we did last year," Quigley said. "We were close to winning the SEC Tournament and I feel like we had a chance against USC in the quarters, so we all want to improve on that. We're all hungry to do better."

Expectations are being heaped upon UK coming into the season, but the Cats are demanding more of themselves than anyone else.

"Our players have really high expectations for the year," Emery said. "I think it's been something that's helped us in terms of our practices because they know, if we're going to achieve those goals, we have to work hard. They have to really keep it together emotionally. I think it's been a real good thing for us."

In hosting the SEC indoors this weekend at the Boone Tennis Center and Lexington Tennis Club, the Wildcats will get an immediate feel for where they stack up in the pecking order of the nation's toughest conference. Seven teams from the conference are ranked in the ITA top 25, including No. 4 Georgia and No. 8 Florida, who join UK in the top 10.

"The idea behind this weekend has always been to get the best players in the conference together and nobody really loses," Emery said. "You're playing a bunch of good people and no one takes any bad losses. It's a good way to get started before the dual match season. It's a showcase for the best players and the best conference in the country."

Unlike the rest of the matches UK will play this spring, the SEC indoors is an individual event. However, the Wildcats aren't going to approach it much differently than the rest of the spring season when they'll be competing as a team.

"It's a really good tournament at the start of the season, great competition," Quigley said. "It's all SEC, which we're going to be facing most of the season. It's not a dual match so it doesn't count team-wise, but it's good. We all get to watch each other play so it will be fun."

The one time the dynamic will be a bit different is if two Wildcats happen to advance and face one another in the later rounds. If that should happen, it won't be a first in 2011-12. At the Ohio Valley Regional Indoor Championships, five Cats advanced to the quarterfinals. Two of those quarterfinals were all-Kentucky affairs, creating some awkward viewing for their coaches.

"You just back off and let them play," Emery said. "There's really nothing you can do. You like them both and you want them both to win. In that situation, you remain completely unbiased and move on."

Ultimately, Quigley and Musialek went toe-to-toe in the final, where Musialek upset his higher-ranked teammate 6-3, 6-3.

"It's definitely a good sign and it's awesome," Quigley said. "It shows us that everyone is working hard and doing well. If you've got to lose to someone, you want it to be one of your teammates."

Tennis is an individual sport played as a team at the college level, which naturally leads to competitiveness among teammates, particularly when they happen on each other in a tournament draw. Emery considers himself lucky to have a group that can see the positive in losing to a teammate.

"Our guys are very much into our team," Emery said. "We have a very close team and they really pull for each other. It's a big difference between our team and I think some other ones."

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