VU Tennis: Preston closing career on high note

Monday, April 28, 2008 at 3:04pm

NCAA tennis selection show

Tuesday, 1 p.m., CDT

TV: ESPNews

Ryan Preston can start to see the finish line of a sterling college tennis career – and he likes what he sees.

Overcoming some early trials and tribulations, Preston has almost quietly emerged as one of the great players in Vanderbilt tennis history. And he hopes to add a bit more to his portfolio with an NCAA appearance in May.

A senior from Chicago suburb Northbrook, Ill., in the heart of Big 10 country, Preston chose Vanderbilt four years ago over a trio of Big 10 schools – Michigan, Illinois and his hometown college of Northwestern.

He was recruited by then coach Ken Flach, who had taken his 2003 team to the NCAA team final.

But midway through Preston’s freshman season, Flach resigned to become pro at a prestigious club in Naples, Fla., leaving the team similar to a rudderless ship.

“That was a difficult time,’’ Preston said after a practice over the weekend. “Coach Flach was one of the main reasons I came to Vanderbilt, and that was kind of a shock.

“Some of the guys transferred. The following year, we were left with just six players, total. (Fellow senior) Evan DuFaux and I were the only ones to stick it out all four years.

“Since then, we’ve gotten better each year under coach (Ian) Duvenhage,’’ Preston said of his third-year coach. “His goal is to make Vanderbilt a top 10 team. We’re not there yet, but if they keep making strides, I think they’ll be there within another year or two.’’

Recently, the 6-2 Preston, who has played No. 1 singles three straight years, became just the fourth player in Vanderbilt history to be named All-SEC three times, joining Scott Brown (2005), Chad Harris (2004) and Peter Lamb (1980).

“That (All-SEC) honor is very well deserved,’’ said Coach Duvenhage. “Ryan has been one of the best players in the league for some years. I’m very happy for him.’’

Up next is an expected invitation to the NCAA team tournament when those bids go out today. Preston is hoping for his third straight singles invitation Wednesday.

Preston, who has wins over five ranked foes including SEC player of the year Greg Ouellette of Florida, considers himself “on the bubble’’ for a singles invite.

“We’re ranked No. 28 as a team, we’re a lock for a bid,’’ said Preston, an economics major. Asked about a singles bid for himself, Preston, who is ranked No. 54, said, “It’s going to be close.’’

Vanderbilt is 13-9 overall, 4-7 SEC and has won five SEC matches (one in the tournament over host Arkansas) by 4-3 scores.

“We’ve been mentally tough in close matches,’’ Preston said. “Even in our 4-2 SEC tourney loss to (NCAA defending champ) Georgia, we played them really tough after they shut us out 7-0 earlier.’’

A strong showing in the NCAA tourney would put the icing on a very nice tennis cake for Preston.

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