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Live blog: Men's tennis vs. Dayton

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Tom Jomby will occupy the top spot in UK's singles lineup when the 2014 season begins on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Tom Jomby will occupy the top spot in UK's singles lineup when the 2014 season begins on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Cedric Kauffmann has depth on his side.

With six seniors on Kentucky's 2014 roster and two more regular contributors returning, there is competition aplenty for the 12 total spots in Kauffmann's singles and doubles rotation.

He plans to take full advantage of that fact.

"I think this year, as a coaching staff, we're willing to pull players out - if you will, kind of like basketball or football - if they're not performing," Kauffmann said. "I won't wait two, three matches for that."

The second-year head coach, however, knows managing the rotation of his ninth-ranked UK team will be a balancing act. He wants the Wildcats to know spots are always at stake, but not in a way that prevents them from playing their best tennis.

"It's motivation, but also sometimes it's pressure for them," Kauffmann said. "I tell them, 'Listen, if I put you in you're going to have a couple matches. I'm not going to throw you in and if you don't win, I'm pulling you out.' I think it's just too much pressure for those kids, especially 18 to 22 year olds."

The player who will occupy the top spot in UK's singles rotation is accustomed to dealing with that kind of pressure. Tom Jomby, now a senior, stepped into a regular role the moment he arrived in Lexington.

The Nantes, France, native played No. 6 singles and made the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team and has only grown since. As a sophomore, he moved into the national rankings. Last season, he was an ITA All-American after rolling up a 21-7 singles record.

But even then, Jomby played all but one of his matches on court two. Now, he's making the step up.

"It's always been my goal since I got here, trying to get to No. 1 on the first court here," Jomby said. "So I'm excited and I can't wait."

Jomby is following in the footsteps of Anthony Rossi, who had a similar wait for the top spot behind Eric Quigley's, the winningest player in school history.

"Like Anthony, I think he's waited his turn," Kauffmann said of Jomby. "And now it's his turn."

Jomby may have had to wait his turn, but he won't have to wait long to be tested now that it has come. After UK hosts a doubleheader on Friday against Dayton and Eastern Kentucky beginning at 1 p.m. ET, the Cats will travel to Cary, N.C., for a Sweet 16 rematch with No. 7 Duke.

"I kind of like it, having a top-10 opponent like Duke the first week right after we get back to school," Jomby said. "It will be a good opportunity to give us confidence."

Jomby - ranked No. 68 after an offseason injury - will likely face No. 29 Michael Redlicki. It will be the first of many highly ranked opponents for Jomby, so Kauffmann believes he will be best served taking a day-by-day approach.

"Our schedule is so tough, he's going to play somebody that's ranked almost every single match," Kauffman said. "If he looks at it as a whole five months, I think it's just too much."

As recently as a year ago, Jomby was not as well suited to handle the burden as he is now. Under the tutelage of fellow Frenchman Kauffmann, Jomby has evolved on and off the court while maintaining the personality that makes him who he is.

"I'm still the same person, but I'm kind of more of a leader," Jomby said. "I'm more mature. I'm maybe less crazy than I used to be."

As much credit as Kauffmann may deserve, he's sure to point out that it's taken a village - and buy-in on the part of Jomby himself - to make that growth happen.

"I think we have a good school," Kauffmann said. "I think our bosses are fair. I think they get on him when it's the right time to get on him. I think his teammates--it's not just me. Do I feel proud of him? Yeah, I feel proud of him. But I'm a perfectionist. I look for him to do even better."

If he does, Jomby and the Cats could have a season to remember.

"I don't know how many hard talks we had his freshman year," Kauffmann said. "Maybe 10. We had eight his sophomore year, we had five his junior year and I hope to only have zero or one (this season). If we can get to zero or just one, then he'll become one of the best players in the country."

Sweet 16 live blog: Men's tennis vs. Duke

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Kevin Lai (left) and Tom Jomby (right) will look to get UK off to a strong start in doubles Thursday night. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Kevin Lai (left) and Tom Jomby (right) will look to get UK off to a strong start in doubles Thursday night. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Classes are out for summer, but the Kentucky men's tennis team has continued schooling its opponents thus far in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have outclassed both Western Michigan and Virginia Tech en route to yet another Sweet 16, the first under first-year head coach Cedric Kauffmann.

With the spring semester in the rear view mirror, Kauffmann's players have been able to put their sole focus on the game of tennis and making a deep run into the postseason.

"I think they're a little bit more relaxed. They're done with their exams," said Kauffmann. "We had an excellent semester in the classroom (men's tennis scholarship student athletes combined for a 3.12 grade-point average). It was kind of a busy spring with both tennis and school, so I think they're a little bit more relaxed and a little bit more smiles, but we have a tough task ahead."

That tough task goes by the name of a familiar heated rival: Duke.

The UK vs. Duke rivalry is always a heated matchup on the hardwood and this Sweet 16 matchup between No. 8 Kentucky and No. 9 Duke at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday in Champaign-Urbana, Ill.,  should live up to those standards.

The Blue Devils, perceived as one of the nation's top teams in the preseason, have won 18 matches this year in which they did not surrender a point to their opponents. The Wildcats, by comparison, have only managed eight such victories, although they play the Southeastern Conference, a tennis powerhouse.

"They're a very, very talented team," said Kauffmann. "I think at the beginning of the year they were kind of projected to be a top-three, top-four team. I think of all the matches they've played, 16 or 17 have not gotten a point off them. It's going to be a tough match."

Kauffmann says the key will be taking the first point up for grabs in doubles. From there, it will make the task of bringing Duke down and advancing to the Elite Eight much easier. So far in the NCAA Tournament, that's been the first part of UK's lesson plan

In each of the first two rounds, Kentucky has jumped out to a quick one-point advantage with doubles victories thanks to the play of duos Tom Jomby and Kevin Lai; Beck Pennington and Ryuji Hirooka; and Anthony Rossi and Juan Pablo Murra. Each tandem has been instrumental in either the first or second rounds in helping UK achieve the doubles point.

"I think it's good because we won the doubles in both, so we have a little bit of momentum," said Kauffmann. "Only one player lost and Beck (Pennington) was hurt, so nobody in the singles round lost a match. If we had anyone playing in the lineup that had lost two matches, it might hurt us a little bit just because there may be doubts, but everyone is playing pretty good."

Most importantly, Kentucky's No. 1 and No. 2 players in Rossi and Jomby have answered the bell in the first two rounds. Rossi battled WMU's No. 1 in a match that was eventually abandoned when junior Grant Roberts clinched the first-round match on the court beside Rossi. He then went on to dominate Virginia Tech's No. 1 player, making quick work in straight sets. Jomby has overwhelmed each of his opponents playing No. 2.

The Wildcats' one-two punch will give them a chance against anyone they play in this tournament.

"They have one of the best No. 1s in the country, but on our end we have one of the best No. 1s in the country," said Kauffmann. "We believe in Rossi. We believe our one-two punch can play with anyone in the country like I said in the first couple rounds."

As UK advances deeper and deeper into the tournament, the pressure will mount. That's OK according to Kauffmann because they've been preparing for pressure moments like this all season.

"I hope it mounts a little bit because I think they understand it's the end of the year and if we lose, we're going to go home," said Kauffmann. "We try to put pressure on every match through the year through the fall and the spring.

"I hope because we've done that, there's not going to be a big gap in the difference of pressure between September, January, until now. I hope there's a small jump, but not a big jump. If it was a big jump, I'd tell you my guys will play really tight. We kind of stress that every match."

Kentucky doesn't expect to be able to roll over its opponent Thursday night. While the Cats have been able to put strong matches together and win 4-0 and 4-1, Kauffmann is still looking for his team to play strong across the board for all seven points. Going up against an opponent like Duke, there would be no better time than now for his team to put together a complete match.

"We've got to be ready and we've got to play seven points," said Kauffmann. "If we're only going to play four or five points against a team like Duke then we're not going to get through."

For that to happen, it's all going to come down to just how much his freshmen gained from their first two matches in the NCAA Tournament and their first collegiate season. With three freshmen in the starting lineup, it's going to be up to them if Kentucky is going to maximize its potential.

"I think our youngsters have gone through the first and second rounds and know what it's about," said Kauffmann. "I'm still waiting for our seven points to be played and I hope it comes Thursday."

The true key for success will come down to if Kentucky continues to play its brand of tennis. The Wildcats have done that so far in the tournament, and it will be crucial for UK to continue to impose its will on its opponents the rest of the way.

When the Wildcats take the court against Duke, they'll look to play the role of professor and let the summer schooling continue.

"If we're playing our game, we're going to be fine and have a chance to win," said Kauffmann. "If we're playing someone else's game, it's going to be very tough. We're going to have to execute our game plan that we have given them for their game."

Kentucky Sports Report (week of May 13)

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Softball
- For the fifth consecutive season the University of Kentucky softball team has received an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament with the selection committee naming Kentucky as the No. 12 national seed and one of 16 regional host locations for the first time in program history.
- This is the fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in school history for Kentucky, who made its first showing in the tournament in 2009. The Wildcats hosted a NCAA Super Regional in 2011, dropping a best-of-three set to highly ranked Cal. All-time, UK is 8-8 in the NCAA Tournament. All tournament appearances have come under head coach Rachel Lawson. UK is one of 23 schools nationally to advance to five straight NCAA Tournaments.
- Kentucky has earned 38 wins this season - the
second most in school history - against some of the best teams in the nation, posting a 13-11 record in SEC action. Before falling in the first round of the SEC Tournament last week, Lawson and Co., had a historic weekend in Tuscaloosa, Ala., taking two of three games from top-10 ranked and defending national champion Alabama. The wins in Tuscaloosa were the first in school history for UK and its first-ever series win against the Tide.

Men's tennis
- Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth-straight season, a program first. UK collected wins over Western Michigan (4-0) and No. 41 Virginia Tech (4-1) to book its spot in Champaign, Ill.
- Kentucky won the doubles point for the third straight match as the newly-formed tandem of Juan Pablo Murra and Anthony Rossi went 2-0 on the weekend with an 8-1 win on Friday and an 8-3 victory on Saturday afternoon.
- Kentucky will take on the Duke Blue Devils, ranked No. 9 in the country, in the Sweet 16 on Thursday, May 16 at 8:00 p.m. ET. The match against the Blue Devils will be the Wildcats unprecedented 11th contest this season against teams that currently comprise the ITA top 10.

Track and field
- Both the UK men's and women's teams finished seventh overall with 46 points each at the SEC Outdoor Championships.
- The women's team earned its highest finish and point total since 2009 (sixth and 56th).
- The Wildcat men's team had its highest finish and point total since 2011 (seventh and 54th).
- Kentucky finished the 2013 SEC Championships with eight medals, two gold, three silver and three bronze.
- Chelsea Oswald became the first ever Wildcat to win at both 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the same SEC Championships.
- Andrew Evans, Raymond Dykstra and Matt Hillenbrand all earned silver medals in the discus, javelin and 1,500 meters respectively.

Baseball
- The Kentucky baseball team completed a grueling stretch of 14 of 16 games against ranked foes with a three-game series sweep at the hands of No. 1 Vanderbilt. The Wildcats picked up a midweek win over Wright State, before falling in the three-game set at the hands of the record-breaking Dores.
- The Wildcats picked up a 4-1 midweek win over Wright State on Tuesday behind a strong start from senior Jerad Grundy, in his midweek debut, and a three-hit game from freshman Kyle Barrett.
- UK has been led at the plate by Barrett, who owns a .351 mark with four doubles, one triple, 14 RBI and four steals.
- On the mound, UK has used the weekend rotation of Reed (2-7, 3.81 ERA), freshman righthander Kyle Cody (3-3, 4.82 ERA) and Littrell (5-5, 3.92 ERA) for two consecutive weeks. Grundy (6-5, 5.02 ERA) has also made 12 starts with 71.2 innings and 58 strikeouts.

Women's golf
- The women's golf team wrapped up its season at the NCAA East Regional last week at the Auburn University Club, May 9-11. UK finished in 12th place in the 24-team regional, shooting 33-over-par for the tournament.
- With the top-eight teams from the regional advancing to the NCAA Championships, the Wildcats' 12th place finish concluded their season but was their highest finish at the regionals in head coach Golda Borst's three-year tenure. Cylia Damerau, Sarah Harris and Betsie Johnson all tied for 60th at 9-over-par.
- Kentucky broke the single-season record with a team stroke average of 301.1, shattering the previous school-record of 304.73 set last season.
- Senior Ashleigh Albrecht wrapped up her career as one of the most decorative women's golfers in UK history. Her season stroke average of 75.07 was the lowest all-time at Kentucky, surpassing Mallory Blackwelder's mark of 75.34 set during the 2007-08 campaign. She also tied her own record with eight par or better rounds in 2012-13 and finished her career with the most par or better rounds in school history with 26.

Upcoming schedule

Tuesday, May 14
Baseball hosts Indiana - 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, May 16
Baseball at Missouri - 7:00 p.m.
Men's tennis vs. Duke - 8:00 p.m. (Champaign, Ill.)
Men's golf at NCAA Regionals (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Friday, May 17
Baseball at Missouri - 7:00 p.m.
Softball hosts Marshall - 7:30 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Men's tennis vs. UCLA/Vanderbilt (Champaign, Ill.)
Men's golf at NCAA Regionals (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Saturday, May 18
Softball hosts Notre Dame/Michigan - 1:00 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Baseball at Missouri - 7:00 p.m.
Softball if necessary game - 3:30 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Softball if necessary game - 6:00 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Men's golf at NCAA Regionals (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Men's tennis at NCAA Tournament (Champaign, Ill.)

Sunday, May 19
Softball championship series - 1:00 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Softball if necessary game - 3:30 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Men's tennis at NCAA Tournament (Champaign, Ill.)

UK's No. 1 Anthony Rossi won in straight sets to help UK advance to their fourth consecutive Sweet 16. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) UK's No. 1 Anthony Rossi won in straight sets to help UK advance to their fourth consecutive Sweet 16. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The first round of the NCAA Tournament served as a warm-up for the Wildcats. They handled Western Michigan and knocked off some rust after having three weeks off from competition.

The win gave the Cats the chance to advance to the second round but also see how they would respond to such a short layoff between matches. And then rain moved in to the Lexington area and forced all four teams to play indoors at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex.

On Saturday, UK was matched with the region's No. 3 seed in Virginia Tech, a team that had been hot and just pulled off an upset over No. 2 seed Michigan. The Wildcats looked even sharper after getting a match under their belts and getting back outside.

"The first day was pretty tough," said senior Anthony Rossi. "We've practiced for the last two weeks outside, so it was tough to adjust. I think today everybody played much better, so that was a good day."

Rossi, Kentucky's No. 1 singles player and No. 5 nationally, looked the part Saturday after defeating Virginia Tech's Amerigo Contin in straight sets (6-0, 6-2). Getting back outside was key to his success.

"I was struggling a little bit yesterday inside," said Rossi. "It was tough to adjust. I have to give credit to (Western Michigan's Nadin Indre). He played a good match."

Rossi and Indre were still in the middle of their second set when junior Grant Roberts clinched the match Friday for the Wildcats. Saturday, Rossi finished up early and had a chance to watch Roberts perform the same task to send Kentucky to its fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.

Next to Rossi on the main courts, junior Tom Jomby continued his dominance and made quick work of Tech's Andreas Bjerrehus (6-1, 6-2).

With Rossi and Jomby singles victories paired with their doubles point they earned, Kentucky led 3-1 and needed one more point for the victory. And once again, it was Roberts with a chance to clinch an NCAA Tournament victory for the second consecutive day.

"I'm just playing with a lot of confidence right now," said Roberts. "I've just been working on my game and being more aggressive. It's just been paying off."

In the most crucial time of the season, Kentucky's upperclassmen are taking the reins. With three freshmen in the singles lineup and key components of the doubles lineups, the postseason is the time for the veterans to step up and lead their team to victory. They're doing just that.

"It's important because we have to show the example every day," said Rossi. "We have to show them that even if we won the doubles today the match was not over."

But for all intents and purposes, it wasn't long after Kentucky won that doubles point that the match would end. Kentucky appears to be playing some of its best tennis of the year and peaking at the right moment.

"Our one-two punch is very tough," said UK head coach Cedric Kauffmann. "Grant is back into shape, Beck (Pennington) has been playing really, really well. He's turning into a leader. Kevin (Lai)'s been playing really good."

Though Kentucky came up short of its goal of winning a championship during the season, there is still one out there to be had. Going to its fourth straight Sweet 16 - the first under Kauffmann - gives the Cats validation that they are one of the best tennis programs in the country.

"We're one of the elites for sure, and it's only getting better," said Roberts. "We've had some great years, but I think Cedric's definitely going to keep building and getting this program better and better until we're top five and making Final Fours, finals and hopefully winning championships."

Kentucky now has an opportunity to move one step closer to that coveted championship: the NCAA Tournament title. That can only happen, however, if their next match in the round of 16 is the most important one on their schedule.

"We're going to put all of our eggs in one basket," said Kauffmann. "Our championship is against the team that we're going to play. I don't care about the other 14 teams in the draw. We'll just look at who we play and we'll try to knock them out."

No. 8 Kentucky will play the tournament's No. 9 seed Duke in the Sweet 16 in Urbana, Ill., on the campus of the University of Illinois on May 16 at 7 p.m. With Kentucky missing out on its championship so far this season, the Cats will have to get through the Blue Devils to win their coveted title. But after missing out on all three, the Wildcats are more than motivated to rectify that situation before all is said and done.

"It definitely fuels our fire," said Roberts. "This is our last one. We're really hungry. We really want to go out on top especially for our senior, for Rossi who has been such a big part of this program for four years. We definitely want to send him out on a good note."

Video: Men's tennis advances to Sweet 16

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Freshman Kevin Lai picked up a point in singles to help UK advance to the NCAA Tournament second round. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Freshman Kevin Lai picked up a point in singles to help UK advance to the NCAA Tournament second round. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Rainy spring weather moved the first round of the NCAA Men's Tennis Tournament indoors on Friday afternoon, but that didn't keep the Wildcats from handling Western Michigan and advancing to face Virginia Tech in the second round Saturday afternoon.

Looking to start a deep tournament run, the Wildcats came out blazing, earning the doubles point on the strength of not their No. 1 doubles team comprised of junior Tom Jomby and freshman Kevin Lai, but due to the performances on courts two and three.

The tandems of Ryuji Hirooka and Beck Pennington combined with the duo of Anthony Rossi and Juan Pablo Murra gave Kentucky two quick decisive match victories, winning 8-3 and 8-1 respectively.

After having nearly two weeks off, it was important to grab that doubles point and strike quickly against a scrappy Western Michigan squad.

"I thought the intensity was really, really good," said UK head coach Cedric Kauffmann. "I think it's going to hopefully carry on to tomorrow, but I thought we played some of our best doubles today."

Though Jomby was unable to make a mark in the doubles point, he and Lai were well on their way to winning their doubles match point, he was the first off the court Friday with a dominating performance over his first-round opponent Ross VanderPloeg. Jomby made quick work of his foe, taking set one 6-0 before discarding VanderPloeg 6-4 in the second set.

Jomby's running mate in doubles, Lai, was busy making noise of his own on court No. 4, and quite literally.

From the other side of the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center indoor facility, Lai could be heard yelling in celebration, point after point as he drew nearer and nearer to a victory for his team with the Cats leading 2-0. Lai got off to a great start in doubles with Jomby, playing a great match which was ultimately abandoned due to UK's clinch, and he carried his play over to singles.

He took the first set with relative ease, taking it 6-2. He was in for a battle in the second set, however, from his opponent Ruben Greiner.

That's when the intensity and his inner Jomby -known for his on-court energy and enthusiasm - began to manifest themselves.

"I think he's taking it from Tom. I think he's looking at Rossi. He's looking at the upperclassmen," said Kauffmann. "I think it's a little bit from him too. That's just the way he is."

Lai had to battle back in set two, trailing 3-1, before knotting things up at 3-3. Then Lai had a chance to put the match away with 6-5 lead, but the back and forth continued as Greiner forced a tiebreaker at 6-6.

It was all Lai from there, however, as he jumped out to a 3-0 lead that turned into a 7-3 victory to take the match in straight sets

It was a sign that the freshman has continued his season-long maturing process.

"Today I tried to work on every single point during the match," said Lai. "I'm all the way back (on court four) so I don't have to worry about what the crowd's doing and like with these three courts what they're doing because I couldn't see the score, so I just focused on my court and tried to finish for the team."

With Lai's point, the Cats had pulled ahead to a commanding 3-0 lead with three matches still in play. Rossi was battling on court No. 1 against WMU's No. 1 Nadin Indre. Indre gave Rossi all he could handle, though Rossi took the first set.

Meanwhile, after completion of Jomby's victory, the final match of the day got underway as junior Grant Roberts took the court. While the other matches grinded out point after point, Roberts made quick work of his opponent.

After getting a later start due to the weather and moving the tournament inside with fewer courts, Roberts still managed to finish before two of the other matches, disposing of Andrew Cahn in a hasty fashion to clinch the first round victory for his team and fulfilling a role that he relishes in.

"It felt pretty good," said Roberts. "I'm used to playing on the last two, so being in the pressure situation I guess you'd say, so I'm pretty used to that. It felt pretty good to get out there and get a match and take care of business."

Roberts took both sets by the score of 6-1 and propelled the No. 1 Wildcats into a second-round matchup with No. 3 seed Virginia Tech, which defeated No. 2 Michigan. After playing several matches outside over the course of the last couple months, getting back inside today was a good change of pace for the Wildcats.

"This is what's maybe is good if it does rain," said Kauffmann. "If we play inside (Saturday) I think it helps us, and if we play out, we've been playing some really good tennis outside."

No matter the venue, Kentucky will have to continue to bring the intensity Saturday if the Cats want to advance to the Sweet 16 and knock off a surging Virginia Tech bunch.

"I think over the last month they've been playing pretty well," Kauffmann said. "They just knocked off Michigan who's been kind of hot through the year, so I think we're going to have a pretty tough match. We're at home so we hope the Big Blue Nation will help us out."

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