Winterbotham still upset about loss in ITA national final

Sam Winterbotham doesn't have very good memories of last year's ITA National Team Indoor Championships, a 4-1 loss to Virginia in the final round.

The road back to the final begins today for the Vols, who host a two-day ITA Kickoff weekend. Tennessee plays San Diego at 1 p.m. at Goodfriend Tennis Center.

The winner will advance to play the Clemson-South Carolina Upstate winner Saturday.

"Last year I remember we made the finals and didn't feel good about losing the final," Winterbotham said. "I think we'd like to get back there."

The winner of the four-team tournament advances to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Seattle, Feb. 18-21.

"We have the biggest weekend of the year so far, coming up this weekend," Winterbotham said. "We take every match to be the one we're focusing on."

No. 3 Tennessee was picked to repeat as SEC regular-season champions after receiving 10 of 12 votes to in the coaches' preseason poll , but Winterbotham said there's no looking past this weekend.

"We're going to get tuned up (if we look forward)," Winterbotham said. "San Diego, Clemson or USC Upstate will be just wanting to oblige. We need to be ready.

"San Diego is as good as any team in this group. I think it's fair to say that we're the favorite, but I would hazard to guess that San Diego isn't the four seed . . . I believe they're a top-15 team."

Senior Boris Conkic said he and his Tennessee teammates have spent the last two weekends getting used to the new playing surfaces at Goodfriend Tennis Center, which was expanded from four to six courts.

"We used (the last two weeks) very well to get better," said Conkic, who beat Juan Ramirez as Tennessee's No. 5 in last Friday's 7-0 win over East Tennessee State to open the team season.

"We practiced hard, we played a few matches. This weekend we have one at least, two we hope, matches and it's definitely going to help prepare us for the road.

"(The surface) was a little bit hard in the beginning. The ball was bouncing a little weird, but I feel like last week we were playing much better. And we're getting used to it."

Grant Ramey is a freelance contributor.

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