March 6, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Thursday’s drive was as easy as they come when it comes to conference road trips, yet in traveling to Clemson for Friday’s ACC opener Georgia Tech’s men’s tennis team took but the first step in what will be a long, tough journey.
At least the Yellow Jackets will be fully packed this season. They’re going to need all they can carry.
The Tigers (7-5) are No. 52 in the nation in the latest ITA men’s rankings, and will offer a mere peek at what the Jackets (7-3) will be getting into over the next couple months. Ten ACC teams are ranked in the top 44, and Tech is outside of that range – at least for now.
Matches against the Tigers Friday at 5 p.m. and at Miami Sunday will offer chances to improve upon that.
“The ACC is just so good,” said head coach Kenny Thorne. “As a tennis conference, it’s special, very balanced.”
The Jackets left Atlanta better packed for travel, and competition, than last season — when injuries and various issues Thorne with little roster flexibility for some matches, and even a player short in others.
Tech’s roster is nine strong now, with four freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and senior Eduardo Segura.
Thorne figures to be able to deploy everybody at one time or another in a schedule that will include matches against No. 2 Duke, No. 12 Virginia, No. 19 North Carolina, No. 20 Wake Forest, No. 23 Notre Dame, No. 29 Florida State, No. 31 N.C. State, No. 33 Louisville and No. 44 Virginia Tech.
The Jackets can send a player out on each of six singles courts and all three doubles courts, and mix and match in ways that Thorne could only dream of last season.
Tech isn’t just showing up, either. The Jackets were ranked No. 70 recently before a tough stretch of 4-3 losses to No. 4 Georgia, at No. 35 Auburn and to No. 59 Tennessee.
They played especially well earlier this semester in a non-dual match format against the Bulldogs, and against No. 15 Columbia.
The doubles point, as always, remains important, yet the Jackets are better equipped by far for singles than last season.
Sophomores Cole Fiegel (16-7) and Carlos Benito (19-11) have each won 11 of their past 12 matches, freshman Chris Eubanks (19-9) has won eight of his past nine, and freshman Elijah Melendez (11-9) has won six of his past seven.
The runs of Benito and Melendez are noteworthy. Benito was 20-21 as a freshman and 8-10 this school year before taking off, and Melendez began his college career 5-8.
“It’s a full team now,” Thorne said. “We can move guys around, or if we want to run a guy out there just in singles, we can do that and plug in somebody else in doubles.”
Eubanks has run his ranking as high as No. 57 with a nice stretch that included a win over No. 15 Nathan Pasha of Georgia.
Junior Nathan Rakitt (9-9) is ranked No. 90 despite battling some physical issues and a brutal schedule that has included 11 matches (4-7) against ranked opponents. He’s been ranked as high as No. 47.
Eubanks has played five ranked opponents (2-3), and has a record of 9-1 combined at No. 1 and No. 2 singles. Other than Rakitt and Eubanks, no other Jacket has faced more than two ranked opponents.
Segura (21-8) has won three straight and seven of 10.
“We like where we are,” the coach said. “We’re ready to go. It’s time.”