April 17, 2012
By Jon Cooper
A 9-11 record, 4-7 in conference, was not the way Georgia Tech men’s tennis head coach Kenny Thorne mapped out the 2012 spring season.
He also planned a better ending than going into the ACC Tournament with five losses in the final six matches.
But that’s the past. He’s concerned with the Yellow Jackets’ now. But he knows that with a couple of breaks his team’s No. 8 ranking would have been a lot different.
“We’ve had a lot of close matches the entire season,” Thorne said. “We’re probably about 10 points shy of being seeded fourth in the ACC. We’ve got to find those 10 points.”
There is good reason for optimism. Four of the Jackets’ eight roster spots were filled by freshmen, with two of them, Sebastian Lopez and Eduardo Segura, playing regularly throughout ACC play. Lopez played singles and No. 2 doubles, while Segura played singles and No. 3 doubles.
As the youngsters cut their teeth, the Jackets cut things a little too close, going 1-5 in six matches that went the distance, five of those in ACC play, where they went 1-4. Thorne believes his youth learned from the experience and will rebound.
“You can take [losing close matches] two ways. It can be frustrating and you can feel sorry for yourself or you can feel like you’re building,” he said. “We like to build on every match, win or lose. I think the guys have done that. This is a fun time of the season. I think they’ll embrace it.”
Making the difference between Tech’s freshmen being eager for their first tournament play and being anxious about it is the job of the team’s two seniors, Kevin King and Dusan Miljevic, who will be playing their final ACC Tournaments.
“It’s very exciting. The team has grown a lot this year and I’m really looking forward to getting into some tournament play with the guys,” said King. “We’ve proved that we can compete with any team. We still have some work to do closing out some matches but it’s definitely something we can build on and improve on.”
“We had some great battles as a team and I think we really got together,” agreed Milevic. “It was really hard at the beginning but as the season went on, we really came together as a team and I feel like we’re really confident going into the ACC Tournament. We always gave our best. If we win, we win. If we lose, we go back and work harder and try to win next time. We just keep going and we always come back.”
Thorne made no bones about leaning on his seniors.
“Kevin has been as consistent of a champion’s mentality as anyone we’ve had at Georgia Tech,” Thorne said. “He faces adversity, with injuries, he’s coming out to practice and encouraging the guys. So he’s going to finish strong, either way. He’s already finished strong in my eyes.
“Dusan is a worker. He’s just one of those guys that is very disciplined,” he continued. “He knows what it takes to be successful in life. So he’s going to finish strong for us and I’m looking forward to watching him play this weekend.”
King has suffered with back spasms, which slowed him during the April 13 match at NC State (a loss) and which kept him out of the lineup for Sunday’s season finale at Wake Forest. The Yellow Jackets lost both, 4-3.
King said he should be fine physically and is more than ready mentally for Thursday when he leads the team into Cary Tennis Park in Cary, N.C., for the match-up against Maryland.
“You have to stay positive, especially if you want to do well in a tournament,” he said. “You have to go in expecting to win every match. Have that attitude the whole time.”
Thorne knows Miljevic will have the right attitude.
“I’m really proud of him,” he said. “Dusan has been in and out of the lineup, had some tough times at Georgia Tech. We talk about finishing strong. As a senior, he’s come out and helped us and really done an incredible job. He’s always done an incredible job in the classroom and he’s doing an incredible job this year on the court. He’s the one guy that, when guys go on the road and they need somebody to help keep them disciplined studying, they ask to room with Dusan.”
Being a role model has been what Miljevic has been all about.
“It’s always important to look up to somebody. When I came here as a freshman I always had people that I looked up to,” he said. “Definitely I have a lot of influence on other players, younger especially. You have to be a good role model and a person that they want to look up to.”
Thorne knows what he’ll get from the seniors and what he wants from the freshmen, but believes the difference-maker could be junior Juan Spir.
“Spir has had a few ups and downs this year but he has the ability to lift this team a lot,” Thorne said. “He’s going to be leading the team next year so I think it’s a good opportunity for him to step up in the ACC Tournament to help lead us.”
Georgia Tech beat Maryland during the regular season. Coincidentally, it was the Jackets’ lone 4-3 win of the spring. In that match, March 25th at the Moore Center, Tech spotted the Terrapins doubles, before King, Miljevic, junior Juan Melian and Lopez won their singles matches to forge the comeback. Miljevic won the deciding match, dropping the first set then losing five games over the final two in the victory.
The Jackets are expecting a big effort from Maryland, which finished with the same 4-7 conference record.
“We have to go in and respect them,” said King. “They’re going to be coming out trying to get some revenge on us. We’re going to have to play well but we just have to stay confident and play our games.”
“We just have to go out there, play our game and go for the win,” added Miljevic. “If they come out and play better there’s nothing you can do. But I feel like if we go out there and play our best, we can beat any team in the nation. So I’m not scared at all. I think we’re going to be fine.”