May 5, 2004
Different Paths Wind up on Same Road on Men’s Tennis Team
When looking at this year’s men’s tennis roster, it quickly becomes obvious that the team is loaded with seniors. In fact, in a lineup of seven players, all four seniors are a vital part to this year’s team which currently has a 15-7 record and is ranked 28th in the ITA Tennis Rankings. Certainly to have a roster made up of so many of one class is rare, however, when you take the time to see how each player came to be at Georgia Tech, it is very easy to see how special this year’s class is.
Take for example Joao Menano, a 5’10” player from Santos, Brazil who grew up loving soccer and spending time at the beach and who graduated last Saturday with a degree in industrial engineering. In this class of four seniors, Menano is the only one who was initially recruited by current head coach Kenny Thorne.
“Joao was at an academy down in Tampa and was a very strong player,” said Thorne. “We saw him in a few tournaments and talked to him and he was as eager as anybody that I’ve ever met in coming to Georgia Tech. For Joao, it wasn’t just the tennis, it was also the academics. He was really excited about getting a good education. He came for a visit and immediately we were sold on him being a part of our program.”
When asked how he ended up becoming a Yellow Jacket, Menano responds with a slight grin, “I really didn’t have many schools that I looked into when it came to college. I decided my last year of high school that I wanted to come to the United States to go to school and really wanted to study industrial engineering, so Georgia Tech was the only school that I seriously considered and I’m very fortunate that it has worked so well.”
In his four years at Tech, Menano has had a solid impact to Tech’s success, playing each season in both the singles and doubles lineups. His freshman year was remarkable, posting a 21-6 record in singles and teaming with former Yellow Jacket Romain Coirault to win the 2001 ACC Flight 2 Doubles Championship. While he has struggled some this season, Menano will etch his name in the Tech record book in the top 10 on the career singles and career doubles wins list.
After graduating this past Saturday, Menano plans on returning to Brazil to play in tennis tournaments this summer but knows with confidence that if that doesn’t work out, he can always find a job with an industrial engineering degree in his pocket.
“My four years at school here were definitely a challenge,” said Menano, “But, at the same time, I had so many struggles that I really feel like Tech has prepared for me for anything that may come my way in life and in the workplace.”
It was May of 2001 and West Nott needed a home. After spending a year as a Florida Gator, Nott suddenly found himself without a coach and wanting a new place to play tennis. A rising sophomore with outstanding junior tennis credentials, Nott placed many phone calls to schools who had recruited him out of high school but was unable to find a place that could offer the right amount of scholarship. Nott had heard of Georgia Tech, but knew very little other than that it was in Atlanta and that there was an up and coming coach there who had a successful career as a professional player in Kenny Thorne. Running out of options, Nott gave him a call, but Thorne was very hesitant. It wasn’t until Scott Schnugg stepped in that Thorne agreed to let Nott become a Yellow Jacket.
“I pleaded with Kenny to let me come play tennis here,” said Nott. “Fortunately, I had roomed with Scott our last year of high school down in Florida and when I heard that Scott was coming here, I begged him to convince Kenny to let me transfer to Tech.”
The end result has been a positive for both Nott and Thorne.
“I knew of West a little bit through working USTA camps and seeing him play as a junior,” said Thorne. “He was always just a solid kid and a solid player with a great work ethic and when he called me up to see about transferring, I did a little bit of research and felt like Tech would be a place where he would fit in as a student and on our team.”
“Georgia Tech has been much more than I thought it would be,” said Nott, who will graduate in December with a degree in management. “School has been very challenging but I’m really pleased that I am at a school that takes academics so seriously.”
After his college career is over, Nott, who in his sparetime enjoys golf and fishing, has plans to pursue a professional career. “I’d really like to give it a try,” said Nott, “I know that I’m not going to be the next Andre Agassi, but at the same time, this would be a great chance to see the world and I’ve already invested so much time and money into tennis, I feel like I owe it to myself to give it a shot.”
Regardless of how Nott does on the pro circuit, the Jackets’ will not soon forget about the affect Nott has had on the program.
“West is such a hard worker,” said Thorne. “He’s by no means the biggest kid on the court, but just competes. Every time he’s on the court he tries to work harder than his opponent. He’s won some huge matches for us during his career and I am glad that he decided to give Georgia Tech a try.”
A native of South Africa, Jason Pieters began playing tennis at an early age, but learned quickly that if he was going to pursue his tennis career, at some point he was going to have to come to the United States.
“In South Africa, the development of junior tennis players is not a priority,” said Pieters. “For one, our country is so remote from other countries and it is so hard to travel to, there have never been professional tennis matches or tournaments so there is not much interest. Plus, the cost associated with tennis is very high and it’s very hard to attract players. This is a big reason why there are so many college tennis players from South Africa.”
So, as Pieters became older, he began pursuing the idea of coming to America to receive the best training that tennis had to offer and at the same time a college education. A fanatic of surfing and hanging out at the beach, Pieters narrowed his choices down to San Diego and Louisiana-Lafayette, both of whom had respectable programs in 2000.
“I originally looked at schools that were on the beach,” recalls Pieters. “But, when it came down to it, I strictly made my decision on tennis. At the time, Lafayette was ranked in the top 30 and San Diego was in the top 70, so I decided on Lafayette.”
During his two years at Louisiana-Lafayette, Pieters struggled with numerous injuries but managed to garner second-team all-Louisiana honors in his first year, leading the team in doubles victories and finishing the season ranked 87th in the ITA rankings. After his sophomore season, which was filled with more injuries, Pieters felt that it was time for a change. He had grown up playing with former Yellow Jacket standout Roger Anderson, and following the 2002 year he came to Tech to work a summer camp with Anderson which allowed him to meet the team and Thorne.
“My decision to come to Tech was strictly spur of the moment,” said Pieters. “I could tell from being around the team how serious they were about training and I was very impressed with the facilities like the weight room, training room and the tennis center. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation then ending up here at Tech.”
In his two years, Pieters has played an integral part of the Jackets’ success. He has played in the middle of both the singles and doubles lineup and led the team last year with a .750 winning percentage in singles matches during the dual season. This season, he boasts a 17-8 record in singles matches, including wins over two nationally ranked opponents, and 12 wins in doubles, which is third on the team.
“Jason went through a tough time at Lafayette and at the time he wanted to transfer, we happened to have a spot on the team; he knew Roger from his days in South Africa and things just worked out,” said Thorne. “As his coach, I can tell you that he’s one of our better match players and has a great mindset on the court. His key is staying injury free, which fortunately he’s done his senior season and the results he has had this year is a reflection of that.”
Upon completing his tennis career at Tech, Pieters has hopes of pursuing a professional career and will also graduate in December with a degree in management, but is unsure as to where he will end up after school.
“Things are constantly changing in South Africa and it’s going to be a very tough decision,” said Pieters. “I’m just trying to make the most of the time that I have here in America and keep things going as long as I can and when that is through, then I’ll have to sit down and really look at my options.”
“This has been the best situation for me,” said Pieters. “Because school and tennis are taken so seriously by our team, I could have easily seen myself just coasting through school. I’ve really gained confidence in myself and have learned such a good work ethic that I have no doubt I’ll be able to use it later in life.”
As a top junior player in high school, Scott Schnugg was recruited by a number of schools. Hailing from Oregon, Schnugg’s older brother, Carl, attended Tech, graduating with a degree in engineering in 2001. Determined to not follow in his brother’s footsteps, Schnugg never gave Tech a thought, deciding instead to attend UC-Santa Barbara. Midway through his freshman year, Schnugg knew it was time for a change. He talked with his brother, who had been on the team briefly while at Tech and knew Thorne.
“When I decided to transfer, I really kept the decision to myself. I spoke with Carl and he had great things to say about Kenny and the team so it seemed like a great fit for me as far as where I would fit into the lineup, academically, and financially. I could not be happier with the decision I made and I feel really good about it because it was the first major decision that I did totally on my own.”
The decision has beneffited the Jackets, as well. His first season at Tech, Schnugg played at the No. 4 position in the lineup and recorded a 28-12 singles record, which was the fifth-highest single-season total in program history. During the 2002-03 season, he moved up to the No. 2 position in the lineup and teamed with Roger Anderson at No. 1 doubles to earn all-America and all-ACC honors while leading the team in dual-match singles and doubles victories. This season, Schnugg has been equally impressive, posting a 16-6 record at No. 1 singles and earning all-ACC honors for the second straight year. In addition, he currently is ranked 52nd in singles and, along with Marko Rajevac, is 30th in doubles in the ITA rankings.
“Scott got to know the program through his brother and when he contacted me, I was very excited.” said Thorne. “We had played against Santa Barbara his freshman year and I was impressed with physical stature and his mentality on the court and he wanted to come to Georgia Tech to see how good he could possibly get. He’s a smart kid and has great work ethic and has the discipline to excel here so I just knew this would be a perfect place for him.”
Following his days on the courts here at Tech, Schnugg dreams of pursuing a professional career. Because of the enormous expense that is associated with playing professionally, Schnugg hopes to attract sponsors to help him achieve this dream. At the same time, Schnugg is confident that his dream of playing tennis doesn’t come to fruition, there are still plenty of opporutnities for him to pursue.
“I’ll be finished with school in December with a degree in Management and am receiving a certificate in marketing,” said Schnugg. “I’m interested in companies that are innovative but it is also important to me to work at a company that I would have fun at and enjoy. Having virtually no work experience it will be tough immediately find a job, but hopefully the characteristics and traits that I’ve developed from being an athlete will be attractive to someone who is hiring.”
And there is the men’s tennis class of 2004. Four young men whose paths taken to get to Atlanta were all unique, but who in the end helped put together four solid seasons of tennis, and who most importantly will each earn a degree from Georgia Tech.
“It’s an interesting class when you look at it on paper,” said Thorne. “To have two players from another country and three originally begin their careers at different schools says a lot about the determination and desire each one has to succeed on the court and in life. I feel fortunate to have had the chance to coach these four men and am proud of what each one has accomplished while at Georgia Tech.”
“When you think about it, each one of us is from four different ends of the world, from a physical and a cultural standpoint, and yet, we’ve become very good friends and teammates and I’m sure we’ll be friends for years to come,” said Pieters.