May 16, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
As they rumbled into the Bill Moore Tennis Center Monday afternoon, members of the Georgia Tech men’s team looked just as much like a band of brothers as they did a team – if that makes sense.
Guillermo Gomez and Dean O’Brien, the senior roommates from Spain and South Africa, respectively, who have locked down the top and bottom of the Yellow Jackets’ lineup on their blitzkrieg to the NCAA Championships, piled out of a car simultaneously. Up they walked to the building, in they went, and down they schlumpfed a bunch of gear in a heap inside the doorway. After practice, the Yellow Jackets would catch a flight to California, where they’ll play USC Thursday at Stanford.
This will be the Jackets’ first visit to the Championships since 1994, but Monday they looked as though everything was routine. Figures; they’re familiar with one another; there is not a freshman on the squad, and the entire team from a year ago is back and their collective comfort level shows on and off the court.
“Definitely it was nice having everybody the same as last year, but we can’t just rely on past results and say of course we’ll be better,” said junior Kevin King. “I think [chemistry] is very important. Everyone knows that they can trust each other. Each of us is giving it all for each other.”
To some degree, every season as an adventure in trial and error as a college team tennis coach fiddles with his roster and tries different players in different spots. Tech is 21-5 in dual (head-to-head) competition, and King has found a comfort zone playing at No. 3 singles. He’s 19-4 in duals, and 9-1 at No. 3.
Gomez has spent almost his entire career at Tech at No. 1 singles, where this season he is 21-3 in duals. O’Brien, who transferred from Tennessee Tech last year, is 15-2 overall and 11-2 at No. 6 singles. He clinched wins over Georgia earlier in the spring, and on Saturday clinched against Mississippi State.
Eliot Potvin is 14-9 overall, and has found a groove at No. 4 singles, going 7-2 in that spot.
Sophomore Juan Spir, whom Thorne kept calling “Juan-cho” on Monday, has a modest 11-7 mark at No. 2 singles, yet the Colombian has put together one of the top doubles seasons in the nation. He and King are 30-10 together for the school year, 15-6 at No. 1 doubles in duals.
Potvin and senior Ryan Smith are 16-5 at No. 2 doubles, and Gomez and O’Brien are 16-2 at No. 3 doubles.
“This year we came together more as a team, and we learned from mistakes,” said Spir, who battled some injuries late in the spring season. “We lost a couple matches where we learned. It’s like it’s a new team; it’s a different feeling. “When you’re on the court you’re by yourself and you have to take care of your business, but it’s good to have the team backing you up. In college, you have to be close. Dean has stepped up. I think we have one of the best No. 6 players in the country, I think. We have a very deep lineup.”
The deeper a lineup, the less players have to press. The more confidence players have in teammates, the less they pressure themselves into thinking they have to win. It’s a collective deal. When they get along like brothers on and off court, it helps. “I think it’s very important,” King said. “veryone knows that they can trust each other. Each of us is giving it all for each other. It definitely takes some pressure off each person knowing that we can win at all six spots. That helps us play our own games.”