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Men's tennis going for it all in NCAA Tournament

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Senior captain Anthony Rossi looks to lead his Wildcats out of the first two rounds with a pair of wins to reach Champaign-Urbana, Ill., site of the 2013 NCAA Tennis Championships. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Senior captain Anthony Rossi looks to lead his Wildcats out of the first two rounds with a pair of wins to reach Champaign-Urbana, Ill., site of the 2013 NCAA Tennis Championships. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For the fifth straight season, the Kentucky men's tennis team will host the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament at the Hilary J. Boone Varsity Tennis Center. But for the first time in those five seasons, it will be Cedric Kauffmann leading his No. 8 Wildcats into battle.

Kauffmann, who took over for Kentucky tennis legend and former head coach Dennis Emery, has guided his team to a 20-11 record in his first season at the helm and has UK poised for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament beginning on May 10 after a strong regular season.

"It feels good. I'm excited about the body of work we've done through the season, and I guess that's why we're hosting," said Kauffmann. "We've done some good things and we've done some things that were just so-so. I look into the postseason to maybe play our best tennis because I think we have some better tennis to be played."

Kauffmann would categorize his first season as good but not great after Kentucky failed to meet its goals of winning the ITA Indoor Tournament, the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship or the SEC Tournament crown.

Just like every tournament his team competes in, however, Kauffmann has his team gunning for the championship. This one just happens to be the biggest of them all. All of those unmet goals would be forgotten with a national title, and Kauffmann sees no reason why UK can't be the last team standing at tournament's end.

"Our goal every tournament is to win it," said Kauffmann. "Everybody in the field has that in the back of their heads. It's a long tournament, a physical tournament. We're going to take it one match at a time, but everyone in the back of their mind wants to win it."

Before the Cats can get to Champaign-Urbana, Ill., for the next stage of the tournament, Kentucky will have to deal with a competitive regional in Lexington comprised of its first-round opponent Western Michigan and potential second-round foes Michigan and Virginia Tech.

Though Western Michigan (19-9, 3-2 MAC) is the four seed of the regional, the Broncos will pose a threat to the Wildcats riding the emotion and momentum of a Mid-American Conference tournament victory.

"We're playing Western Michigan who won their conference. They're feeling good and have confidence," said Kauffmann. "That's a dangerous round. If we're lucky enough to win that round, we'll play somebody that has enough talent to knock us out. It's very dangerous and it's going to be very tough."

The Wildcats will have to continue to rely on their No. 1 and No. 2 players in senior Anthony Rossi and junior Tom Jomby, who rank No. 5 and No. 23 in the nation, respectively. From there, Kauffmann will put the rest of their chances in the hands of four true freshmen.

The talent is there, now it's time for the youngsters to take ownership of this team with a full season under their belt and seize the opportunities in front of them.

"Our freshman class, since we've had some injuries, is going to have to step up," said Kauffmann. "I thought this team was going to become theirs in a year or two, but it's kind of become their team. I threw four freshmen out there in the SEC Tournament. I thought they competed well and gave us a chance."

What Kauffmann is hoping for, despite a packed sports weekend on the Kentucky campus with the NCAA Tournament coinciding with the SEC Softball Tournament and a crucial three-game set for Kentucky baseball versus Vanderbilt, is for all of their fans to come out and support his team to give them an edge. With all the fans and one area, fans can stop by heading from one venue to another to help the Wildcats pick up a couple of wins this weekend.

"It's clear that I would love for them to step by and check it out," said Kauffmann. "I know the fans that have been following us all season will come. I'd like to have some new fans, maybe come on over. I think they'll enjoy it. I think it will help our guys play a little bit better. I think our guys play good with a loud crowd, so I welcome everybody to come."

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