Junior Russell Bader and freshman Roman Trkulja were slotted in the 28th spot in the 2012-2013 Intercollegiate Tennis Association preseason rankings, which were released last week.
Bader is familiar with being ranked but not this early. He and former Nittany Lion Jason Lee entered the 2012 NCAA doubles tournament ranked as the 27th best team in the country but began last year unranked.
Bader said a preseason ranking does not make this season easier, but it does not hurt he and Trkulja.
“I think it’s a lot more helpful to have a preseason ranking than to start where Jason and I started last year from scratch,” Bader said. “We’re just going to try to use that momentum.”
Bader and Lee lost in the first round of last year’s NCAA doubles tournament to Oklahoma’s duo of Costin Paval and Dane Webb, who are now ranked No. 1.
“We were literally one point away from winning that match,” head coach Jeff Zinn said. “So, [the ranking] shows that Russell can come back with a new partner and still be ranked pretty high in the nation. That says a lot about Russell.”
Assistant coach Chris Cagle said Bader will be able to help Trkulja, much like Lee did with Bader last year, despite Trkulja’s accomplishments in junior tennis.
“Roman has played some high-level tennis on his own,” Cagle said. “But, I definitely think Russell is going to be able to take him under his wing and help him with some pointers. In mid-match times, it’ll help pull him through some tough matches.”
Bader credits Lee and Eddie Bourchier, his two previous doubles partners at Penn State, for showing him the ropes. He now recognizes his place on the team.
“Those two guys were two of the best doubles players in Penn State history,” Bader said. “I was able to learn a lot from them, and I think now it’s my turn to pass that information. I’ll just try to do that with Roman.”
Bader said he admires Trkulja’s history in junior tennis and likes what he brings to the table.
“Roman is already a great doubles player,” Bader said. “He’s already done a lot of good things in the juniors. We’ve been practicing a lot, and we’ll mesh quickly together. He’s very open-minded to learning, so that’s helpful.”
Trkulja said the ITA preseason ranking adds a little more pressure on his first year of collegiate tennis, but he also said with pressure comes the motivation to stay there.
“Right off the bat, we’re going to be playing good teams and be playing harder matches,” Trkulja said. “Hopefully, we can just keep going higher.”
Zinn said he does not typically like putting the pressure of playing with a proven player like Bader on a freshman, but he said he thinks Trkulja is not a typical first-year player.
“Roman has done so well in the Canadian National Championships and international tournaments across the world that he’s a little bit more advanced than your normal 18-year-old freshman coming to college,” Zinn said. “It’s going to take a while, but hopefully by the springtime, they’ll have gelled.”
Although Cagle said the doubles lineup is not solidified, he said Bader and Trkulja’s playing styles made them compatible.
“They’re both comfortable on a doubles court. They both can come into the net and volley,” Cagle said. “Based on playing styles and personalities, we thought they’d be a good pairing.”
Cagle also said the preseason ranking does not only help Bader and Trkulja, but it adds to the team, as well.
“We know that every match they play this fall and the spring, they’re going to have to earn it and back that up,” Cagle said. “But, for our entire team, I think it gives us some extra confidence.”
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