GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - All season long the Green Bay men's tennis team has been focused on one goal - winning the conference tournament and earning the school's first NCAA Tournament berth.
Now, after wrapping up a regular season in which it posted a school-record 17 wins (17-6, 6-1 HL), the No. 2 seeded Phoenix is poised to achieve its goal this weekend at the 2012 Horizon League Men's Tennis Championships, held April 27-29 at North Central High School in Indianapolis.
Green Bay has earned a first round bye and will face No. 6 Butler on Saturday at 3 p.m. CT.
To view the entire 2012 Horizon League Men's Tennis Championships bracket, click here.
The Phoenix players and coaches have had their eyes on this year's Horizon League crown ever since its 4-1 loss to Cleveland State in last year's finals. The defeat marked Green Bay's fourth runner-up finish (2011, 2004, 2003, 2002), while the Vikings picked up their fourth straight conference championship.
"It didn't take long after that match to start talking about the next year," fourth-year head coach Mark Thomas said. "As soon as we got in the vans to head back to Green Bay we talked about it. We had been there, we had tasted it, and now we want that championship trophy."
Last year marked the first title match experience for the current Green Bay squad, which looks to use that experience to its advantage this weekend. Five players on the 2012 roster played in the finals a year ago, including junior Erik Finkenbrink (Duelman, Germany).
"Playing in the championship match last year was a new thing for all of our guys," Finkenbrink said. "Now we have the experience. We know what it feels like and we know that we have to come out with a high level of intensity right away in the semifinals in order to fulfill our dream of going to the NCAA Tournament."
Phoenix senior Paul Swanson (Coon Rapids, Minn.) said he and his teammates learned a lot from last year and that the team is taking a different approach entering this weekend's Horizon League Championships.
"I think we were satisfied just making it to the championship match," Swanson said. "It was the first time this group had been there and that was a big step for us, but we were the underdog and I'm not sure we 100 percent believed that we could win. I think this year it's a completely different mentality. This year we really believe that we can do it. Nothing other than first place will be satisfying for us."
Led by Swanson - a Horizon League Player of the Year candidate - this year's record-setting Green Bay squad has a solid mix of experienced upperclassmen and talented newcomers. Swanson boasts a 17-6 overall singles record, including a 6-1 mark against league opponents at the No. 1 spot. The team captain was named Horizon League Player of the Week in back-to-back weeks (April 3, April 10) after leading the Phoenix to a 4-0 start in conference play while posting a 4-0 singles record against UIC, Valparaiso, Youngstown State and Cleveland State.
Swanson wasn't the only Phoenix player to earn weekly honors in 2012, as junior Craig Cox (Surrey, England) (Jan. 31) and freshman Michael Tenzer (Neuried, Germany) (Feb. 22) also picked up Player of the Week awards.
Cox, who played primarily at No. 3 and No. 4, finished the season with a team-high 19 singles victories (19-4), winning nine of his last 10 contests. Cox also paired with Finkenbrink to go 18-3 in doubles action on the year, including a 12-1 record at No. 1.
Tenzer, a strong candidate for Newcomer of the Year, posted a 16-6 singles record while playing the majority of his matches in the No. 2 slot. He also teamed up with classmate Felix Goepper (Seelbach, Germany) to form Green Bay's No. 2 doubles team, which went 13-4 overall (8-0 at No. 2) and received the program's first national doubles ranking (No. 61).
Green Bay's only Horizon League loss this season came to top-seeded Wright State (18-4, 7-0 HL) - a tough 4-3 decision on April 14 in Dayton, Ohio. Should the higher seeds prevail and the two teams meet in Sunday's championship match, Swanson is confident the Phoenix can reverse the result.
"After we lost to Wright State we've used that as motivation," Swanson said. "We remember how that loss felt, but at the same time we know that wasn't the match that mattered. This weekend is what matters. This weekend is what we're going to remember."
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VIDEO: Phoenix tennis is on the rise
Fox 11 previews the 2012 Horizon League Championships