Can abundance of talent carry Vols to a national title in tennis?

Tennessee men's tennis coach Sam Winterbotham believes his team could compete for the national championship.

They just have to be careful not to look too far ahead.

"We have a great deal of talent," Winterbotham said. "We have high expectations and we see what they're capable of on a daily basis."

Tennessee won't have to look too far to get started on its goals for the spring season. Fresh from competing in the SEC Coaches Indoor Championships in New Orleans, Tennessee opens its regular season today at home against Furman (1 p.m.) and The Citadel (7 p.m.) at Goodfriend Indoor Tennis Center.

Tennessee begins the dual-match season ranked No. 24 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's preseason poll.

Comprised of four freshmen, three sophomores and only one senior, Winterbotham has the opportunity to see his players develop in his second season at Tennessee.

"We want them to start competing as a team," Winterbotham said. "My relationship with the players that have been here has grown."

Two freshmen on Winterbotham's squad have been ranked nationally in the ITA preseason poll. After playing well in the fall, Boris Conkic is ranked No. 28 in the country, while J.P. Smith has been ranked No. 92. Coming to Tennessee from Australia, Smith defeated three ranked players in the New Orleans tournament before being knocked out in the semifinal round.

Smith said he is ready to continue playing well and help his teammates defeat Furman.

"It's a great chance to show what Tennessee can do," Smith said.

He said coach Winterbotham has been helpful in giving tips and advice amid the differences he's faced in adapting to playing tennis in another country.

"It's not that big of a difference," Winterbotham said. "One tennis court is the same as another."

Winterbotham said the New Orleans tournament helped not only Smith but the entire team as it enters the new season.

"It was a great way to gauge where we are," he said. "We compete best we can."

Winterbotham said it can take several years for an athletic program to fully develop, but he said the system he's using at Tennessee is much more in place this year and he has gotten to know the tennis community better.

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