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Kentucky Kernel

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Key takeaways for Kentucky men’s tennis following NCAA Tournament defeat

Christian Kantosky
Freshman Eli Stephenson warms up at the Hillary J. Boone Tennis Facility on Friday, May 3, 2024, in Lexington, Kentucky.

No. 5 Kentucky men’s tennis traveled to Stillwater, Oklahoma, where it suffered a 5-0 loss to No. 4 TCU, ending its season in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. 

After Kentucky dropped the doubles point, it was a quick downhill spiral as the Wildcats won just a single set in singles play as Eli Stephenson took his first set, but it was not enough.

Charlelie Cosnet was the first to fall, followed by Jack Loutit on court five and Taha Baadi and Josh Lapadat losing just seconds apart. 

The 2023-24 season was one filled with highlights as the team went on a 20-match winning streak prior to the TCU loss that saw the Cats bring home both the regular season and SEC Tournament title. 

Now that the 23-24 season has wrapped, there were several key takeaways from this year’s team regarding what to expect in the future. 

GIBSON – The ‘Kentucky culture’ was the key to this season’s success

Coach Cedric Kauffmann has led his team to three straight Elite Eight berths and back-to-back SEC Tournament championship wins and it all started with the “Kentucky culture.”  

“The coaching staff is what brings the culture towards the team and then the team keeps it going,” captain Lapadat said. “I think it stems from the top.” 

That Kentucky culture is based on hard work and sticking together, with Kauffmann and his staff emphasizing tirelessly working towards their goals as individuals and as a team.  

“We’re just all hard workers,” Baadi said after UK’s win over Harvard in the Sweet Sixteen. “Everybody works so hard, everybody trusts each other. We don’t let our ego get in the way and we just stick to that Kentucky culture that has been building up for years.”

Adjusting to college tennis as freshmen can be a daunting task, but the leadership provided by this season’s captains helped the freshmen adapt.  

“They’ve adjusted to the culture really well,” coach Matthew Gordon said. “The seniors this year have really helped them get used to the way we work at Kentucky.”  

The results seen on the court for the Wildcats this season were some of the best the program has ever seen, but that comes as no shock to those around the program that know about the Kentucky culture. 

McClelland – Lapadat and Baadi fulfilled their roles as team captains   

In the 2022-23 season, Baadi and Lapadat were juniors, shifting between courts three and four for singles play.

After the departure of Liam Draxl and Alafia Ayeni — the cornerstones of the program — Baadi and Lapadat had to step up to the plate this season and they did just that. Both were named team captains, along with Tate Sandman, and were given a huge bump in trust and competition, moving to courts one and two.

Baadi faced over a dozen ranked opponents this past season, highlighted by his wins against No. 17 Kenta Miyoshi at Illinois and No. 15 Cooper Williams in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament against Harvard.

Lapadat reached a height of  No. 80 in ITA rankings, going undefeated in singles play during the SEC Tournament and helping the Cats win back-to-back conference championships.  

With that said, an accomplished season, now at an end, requires a new future at Kentucky.  

“I’m gonna try and go pro,” said Lapadat. “I love tennis too much to stop and I’ll probably start playing right away.”

While contemplating his future, Lapadat also reflected how close this year’s team was on an emotional level. 

“We’re a family,” said Lapadat. “We treat each other well, and we have respect for each other.”  

While the season was special, this family, now all broken up, will need new captains and will have to hope those captains can fill the shoes left behind by both of the team’s current leaders.

GIBSON – Kentucky is young, the future is still bright despite hard loss to TCU

Getting routed by TCU 5-0 to end the season stings, but one thing to note is that Kentucky has one of the younger rosters in the tournament and will surely be back. 

Next year’s squad will say goodbye to Baadi, Lapadat and JJ Mercer, but the Wildcats also have three freshmen that will be playing with a year of experience under their belt come this time next season.  

Loutit, Stephenson and Matt Rankin were part of the No. 3 ranked recruiting classes heading into the year and have numerically proven to be the best, going 32-9 in singles play this year.  

“I think they are one of the best (recruiting classes),” Kauffmann said. “If they get stronger, I think they can take us to another moment like this, where I think we can push through the door.” 

Kentucky already has two commits for the 2024-25 season, including a familiar name with brother of JJ, AJ Mercer.

AJ is a four-star recruit out of West Virginia, is nationally ranked No. 67 and is a two-time state singles champion.

The Wildcat’s five-star recruit, Thomas Faurel, is Tennis Recruiting Networks’ No. 7 player and is ITF No. 14.  

Although Kentucky did not get a fairytale ending to its storybook season, the Wildcats are positioned to be postseason contenders for years to come.  

McClelland – As seniors leave, leadership shifts to the next years juniors

Jaden Weekes and Cosnet, this year’s key sophomore players, held a combined 34-11 singles record and only lost two matches, each against SEC opponents. 

These two, the front runners for team captains and a bump to courts one and two, will be the oldest players on the team next year, along with Christophe Clement.  

Kentucky men’s tennis, unless a move is made in the transfer portal, will not feature a senior on the roster next season.

Weekes, who participated in doubles along with Stephenson for most of the season, has already accelerated in teaching Stephenson on the court.

With big shoes to fill yet again, Weekes and Cosnet are going to have to grow up quick and lead the program head-on.

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