Being Ranked Isn’t Uncharted Waters for SU’s Head Coach

Thursday, Mar 05, 2020 at 11:21 am by Sports Editor

By Cameron Ezeir

CitrusTV Tennis Beat Reporter

As of Tuesday, Syracuse (8-2, 3-1 ACC) ranked No. 23 in the country following wins over No. 15 Notre Dame and Louisville this past weekend. The Orange have already held a top 25 ranking once this season, the 8th overall top 25 honor that SU has received in the Younes Limam era. Now, make that 9. Since 2014, the Morocco native has earned his stripes as a top coach in the ACC, and the success of the Syracuse tennis program perpetuates that.

On January 29th, 2014, Luke Jensen, the long-time head coach of Syracuse Tennis, resigned from his post to pursue other career opportunities. He recorded a 106-57 win-loss ratio in his seven seasons with SU and shocked the entire program with his departure. A mere five months later, Younes Limam, an assistant coach at Rice University, stepped in and took the reigns of the Orange.

In his first season, Limam led Syracuse to No. 34 in the country, their highest ranking in all of 2015. But after an entire year of getting acclimated with the program, Limam entered uncharted territory and never looked back. 

For the first time in SU’s 41-year tennis history, the Orange conquered the top 25 barrier behind a stellar 8-1 start to the season. Gabriella Knutson, the standout freshman played a massive role in capturing that feat. That same year, SU made their first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament. Not only did the Cuse make the tourney, but they won their first-ever tournament duel over Georgia Tech.

Following a successful 2016, Limam coached the Orange to an abysmal 2017 season. Injuries and plenty of adversity surrounded his second season at the helm of the SU Tennis team. But that adversity did not steer Limam and the team away from recent success in the ITA polls.

In 2018, Syracuse reached No. 25 and eclipsed No. 40 on multiple occasions. Knutson ranked as high as No. 4 in the country in singles and Limam’s recruiting process—targeting overseas players like Sodya Golubovskaya—proved vital in SU’s consistent appearances in the weekly ITA rankings. Although the Cuse were bounced in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Limam had changed the culture of Syracuse tennis to a program destined for top 25 recognition.

Due to the program’s recent success, Limam earned a contract extension and created a new precedent for Syracuse. For the first time ever, SU was ranked in the top 25 heading into the spring season. The Orange’s 24th spot also tied their highest rank in program history. 

In many programs around the country, teams would be content with such praise from the committee, but not SU. In about a week’s time, the Cuse defeated Columbia and No. 9 Michigan, to climb the polls once again. This time Syracuse earned the No. 10 spot in the nation, with the recruitment of Guzal Yusupova, a transfer from Washington State, and Russian star Sonya Treshcheva, playing a significant role in SU’s recent surge in the rankings. In 5 years, Limam turned a struggling program into a standout one.

Syracuse never dropped below No. 32 in the polls in all of 2019, winning the first round in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments. Even after graduating four seniors, including the winningest player in SU tennis history in Gabriella Knutson, Limam continues to take this Orange team to new heights in the recruiting process and his unique style of coaching.

This year, Syracuse entered the season unranked and with three new freshmen on their roster. With a young roster, no Knutson, and nine ranked teams in the ACC, the Orange could have reverted to their earlier years when the team failed to appear in the first released ITA rankings. 

But the experience of Younes Limam has kept that from happening. The three recruits have already gelled well with the team. Also, the support he shows them duel in and duel out is unlike any other coach, giving the less experienced players confidence throughout their respective matches. These attributes led Syracuse to a 6-0 start and No. 25 in the country. Just two weeks later, sitting at 8-2, the Orange are No. 23, their third-highest ranking in program history.

What was uncharted territory for Syracuse Tennis just six years ago is now familiar waters. The impact of Coach Limam is hard to ignore, and the culture that he has brought is a story in itself. But the real storyline is the fact that Syracuse has been in this position before. A team that struggled to crack the top 25 and has dealt with the worst of adversity, but is now a team to be feared by its opponents. | @EzeirCameron