Freshman is front and center for Vanderbilt at SEC tennis tournament

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 5:16pm

One of the most celebrated freshman recruits to leap onto the Vanderbilt tennis scene in almost a decade, Ryan Lipman has not disappointed.

Lipman, of Nashville, quickly moved into the No. 1 singles position back in the fall and stayed there for the Commodores the entire spring. That made him the only freshman to play No. 1 singles in the SEC the entire season in 2010.

As such, he is the one who leads Vanderbilt into the SEC men’s tournament, which opens Thursday morning in Lexington, Ky.

Lipman is Vanderbilt’s top freshman recruit since Bobby Reynolds burst onto the scene in ’02 and made All-American. Lipman, who committed early, was No. 2 ranked junior in the country in his final pre-college year of competition.

Making the transition from being home-schooled to becoming a freshman at Vanderbilt has not exactly been a walk in the park.

“It’s still difficult for me, even today, classes for the first time (after being home schooled), adjustments,’’ Lipman, who likely will major in Human and Organizational Development, said. “I have to really budget my time well. Coach (Ian) Duvenhage has been so positive and supportive with me throughout and has been so flexible with my schedule. And the guys on the team have all been so nice and accepting.”

This spring, the wiry 5-foot-11, 145-pound Lipman, has compiled a 22-12 overall singles (12-9 dual) record, including a 6-5 mark in the SEC. In doubles, Lipman and partner Bryant Salcedo are 9-3 (7-3 in the SEC).

Most impressively, Lipman has moved up to No. 32 in the latest national collegiate rankings. If he maintains a level close to that, he is a cinch to be invited to the NCAA singles tournament in May in Athens, Ga. The committee selects 64 players.

“My goal for the season was a top 25 ranking and to make the (NCAA) tournament,” Lipman said. “I have a realistic chance at that.”

Vanderbilt plays Mississippi State in its opening SEC tournament match 11 a.m. Thursday on the UK courts. With a victory, it advances to the quarterfinals against Florida.

Vanderbilt went 13-9 (5-6 in the SEC) during the regular season, which included a victory over Mississippi State.

The Commodores are ranked 32nd nationally and appear certain to be invited to the 64-team NCAA tourney.

Five of their nine losses were to top 10 teams, including a narrow 4-3 defeat at then No. 9 Georgia. Lipman won that day against No. 29 ranked Javier Garrapiz.

“(College players) are a lot stronger, a lot smarter, Lipman said. “They know how to make adjustments.”

The first adjustment Lipman needed to make was to his emotions.

“(My first SEC match) was against Ole Miss, and I was pretty nervous and I lost (to Marcel Thieman),” he said. “The next match was against Mississippi State, I was pretty solid out there, and I won (in three sets over Louis Cant).”

Lipman’s mother is the former Liz Tamborello, a star Vanderbilt player in the mid-1980s and a state high school doubles champion from Houston. His younger brother Maxx, a freshman at BGA, finished fifth in the national Easter Bowl tournament in Palm Springs, Calif., recently.

“He gets all his athletic genes from (his mother),” jokes his father, Howard Lipman.

Given that he can go no higher in the lineup, Lipman’s next goal is to climb the scales, so to speak.

“I want to get stronger, put on some LBs (pounds),” he said. “I am going to spend a lot of time in the weight room.”

At least he already proved he can hold up under the weight of expectations.

Vanderbilt women head for SECs

The No. 29 ranked Vanderbilt women (7-4 SEC, 12-8 overall) also will play Mississippi State in their SEC tournament opener, 1 p.m. Thursday at Athens, Ga.

The Commodores appear a lock to be selected for their 16th straight NCAA team appearance under Coach Geoff Macdonald.

“We’ve played well lately, and we’re very anxious to get started in the SEC tournament,’’ Macdonald said. “This is the second season for us. It’s good that we’re playing in Athens, Ga., that’s the site of the NCAA tournament (in May). If we’re fortunate enough to get that far, that should be an advantage.”