Lamar men’s tennis to host WAC tournament as top seed

Lamar University men’s tennis team’s longtime head coach Scott Shankles built a roster filled mostly with freshman who, prior to this season, had never navigated a full collegiate schedule. However, what the Cardinals lack in experience, they make up for in talent.

With four of its top six singles players being freshman, Lamar went “blindly” into its first WAC season. That youth – headlined by WAC Player of the Year Daniel Sancho Arbizu – helped Lamar dominate during an undefeated regular-season championship.

The Cardinals now turn their attention to this weekend’s WAC tournament in Beaumont, where Lamar will host as the No. 1 seed and hope to capture its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2017. It’s another new challenge in a season full of unknowns, but Shankles expects his team will be up to the task.

“These guys may be young, but they’re fearless,” said Shankles, who was named as the WAC’s Coach of the Year. “They don’t fear anybody, and we’ve put ourselves in a great position for this weekend.”

It was at a fall tournament in September when Lamar got a first glimpse of its future WAC opponents. League games didn’t start until January, but New Mexico State hosted a “WAC pod” in Las Cruces.

There, the Cardinals began to familiarize themselves with WAC opponents like the Aggies, Seattle and Grand Canyon. Shankles said that experience was extremely valuable, especially for a such a young group of players.

Lamar’s youth isn’t the only thing that sticks out on the roster. The Cardinals have a heavy contingent of international talent, with local graduates Brandon Do (Nederland) and Jonah Smith (PN-G) being the only domestic players.

Do is Lamar’s consistent No. 6 singles player and occasionally saw some doubles action. Smith is a freshman walk-on who is still gaining experience in a limited role.

Lamar clinched the WAC regular-season championship during a high-drama win over New Mexico State on April 9 in Abilene. Both teams entered unbeaten, but it was Lamar’s second match of the weekend.

The conference’s top seed ended up coming down to the No. 1 singles match. Sancho Arbizu trailed 2-1, but won five straight sets over New Mexico State’s top player to spark a 6-4 victory and a regular-season title.

“Playing No. 1, you always have to bring your best,” said Sancho Arbizu, who is a native of Spain. “It’s not pressure, just motivation to help your team.”

That win didn’t come without some help from a Lamar teammate turned coach.

Early in the match during doubles play, Lamar assistant coach Nicolas Mayr became sick and had to leave. That meant the Cardinals were down a coach for singles play.

Shankles turned to senior captain Joshua Taylor, who only plays doubles for Lamar. Taylor stepped in to coach on the open singles courts, which included the No. 1 match.

As Sancho Arbizu battled for the regular-season title, it was Taylor guiding him from the sideline.

“You don’t have to tell Sancho much,” said Taylor, who plans to be a graduate assistant at Lamar next season. “He’s one of the most clever tennis players I’ve ever met.”

The WAC tournament begins on Friday at the Beaumont Municipal Tennis Center and is free for the public to attend. Lamar has a bye and won’t play until Saturday at 9 am against the winner of No. 4 Grand Canyon and No. 5 UT-Rio Grande Valley.

Beaumont has been a common site for conference events in recent years, including last season’s Southland Conference tournament. The city courts feature plenty viewing areas and second-level seating, which makes for an impressive home-court advantage, Shankles said.

“The Beaumont tennis community is phenomenal. It’s been like that every year that we’ve hosted, ”Shankles said. “I hope people will be loud and proud like they always are, because that helps us more than they even know.”

Matt Faye is a Sports Reporter and Columnist for the Beaumont Enterprise. Contact him at or on Twitter by clicking here.

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