Editor’s note: Fifth in a series of articles examining how each BYU program will stack up against its new conference foes. Today’s program: men’s tennis.

In the previous four previews of this series — BYU women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s cross-country and women’s cross-country — all four programs look to compete right away for Big 12 conference titles and have established a tradition where NCAA postseason competition is a given.

BYU’s men’s tennis program, however, will not continue that trend. The Cougars were solid in the West Coast Conference, finishing second or third six times in 11 seasons, but never did claim a conference title. The last championship banner for men’s tennis was a pair of MWC titles in BYU’s last two seasons in that conference in 2010 and 2011.

The Cougars have played in eight NCAA Tournaments (1979, 1985, 1988, 1997, 2001, 2010, 2011, 2013) in program history, but they’ve never advanced past the first round. Their last top-25 final ranking was in 1988 when they finished 25th (there were only 20 teams in the NCAA tourney that season).

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Last season, BYU placed fifth in the WCC at 4-5 and finished with an overall record of 6-16 in a year marred by injuries. At the end of the season, head coach Dave Porter retired after more than 40 years coaching combined at BYU and BYU-Hawaii. As of the writing of this article, a new coach has not been announced.

According to the team website, all eight members of last year’s roster are returning in 2023. Among the returnees are Jack Barnett and Wally Thayne, All-WCC honorees in doubles and at-large nominations to the 2022 ITA All-American Championships, collegiate tennis’ fall national championship.

They’ll be joined by Kai-I Wang, Taiwan’s top youth player, and Abhinmanyu Vannemreddy, a transfer from Charlotte who played No. 1 singles for the 49ers. The Cougars also have two five-star recruits, but both are currently on church missions and won’t play this season: Caden Hasler, who finished 2022 as the No. 1 junior doubles player in the nation, and Hardy Owen, brother of current Cougar Redd Owen.

Big 12 men’s tennis

Even more unfortunately for the Cougars? The Big 12 is really good at men’s tennis. BYU will join seven other universities sponsoring the sport: Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and UCF. Cincinnati, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and West Virginia do not.

NCAA men’s tennis has a full 64-team postseason tournament with the top 16 teams seeded. Last year, Texas was the No. 1 seed and TCU No. 2. All six of the traditional Big 12 teams participated: Texas and TCU both reached the Final Four, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State advanced to the second round, and Baylor and Texas Tech lost in the first round.

Since 2000, Baylor and Texas have played in every NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma has played in the last 13 tournaments, TCU has played in the last eight, and Texas Tech has played in the last four. Oklahoma State has missed the last two postseasons but played in seven-straight before then. Even UCF has participated recently in 2017, 2019 and 2021.

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Baylor took the national title in 2004 and was runner-up in 2005 and 2021, Texas was runner-up in 2008 and won it all in 2019, and Oklahoma was runner-up in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Most years have featured every Big 12 school ranked in the top 40 of the final ITA rankings and three to five are usually ranked in the top 25.

So yes, the Big 12 knows how to play tennis.

Baylor, TCU and Texas have claimed most the recent conference titles. In 2022, Texas finished atop the regular season standings with TCU winning the tournament.

How will BYU fare?

I’ve already given away the ending but competing in the Big 12 will be a tough row to hoe for the Cougars this fall — really, it’d be tough for almost any team in the nation. Finishing better than last this upcoming season would be an accomplishment. BYU’s new coach will hopefully continue to develop the young returning and incoming talent and use the chance at playing in the Big 12 as a recruiting boost to help the Cougars become competitive in what is already a cutthroat conference.

BYU competes against Pacific in Provo during the 2023 season. | Nate Edwards, BYU Photo
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