April 26, 2017
By most standards, Georgia Tech’s 2017 season was pretty good.
The Yellow Jackets finished 10 games over .500 for the first time since 2011 (16-6), had their second-straight 8-4 season within the ACC, and made the home folks happy by going 10-3 at the Byers Center. Individually they had three players record at least 20 wins (junior and No. 7 nationally ranked Chris Eubanks, 26-5, senior Cole Fiegel, 22-15, junior Daniel Yun, 21-15), two others just miss at 19 (freshman Chris Yun, 19-13, sophomore Andrew Li, 19-12), had eight players overall hit double-figures and no one contributed fewer than seven. That was while working a pair of freshmen (Yun and Carlos Divar) into the lineup.
They’re ranked No. 20 nationally and fourth in the ACC, behind only No. 1 Wake Forest, No. 3 Virginia, and No. 12 North Carolina.
Despite all that, pretty good is not good enough for the Jackets, which is why going into the ACC Men’s Tennis Championship, which began Wednesday at the Rome Tennis Center on the campus of Berry College in Rome, Ga., they’re resetting their goals and continuing to aim high.
“We’ve had a good year but we still haven’t accomplished a lot of the goals that we set at the beginning of the season,” said Head Coach Kenny Thorne, whose team recorded its third straight winning season, and whose 33 wins over the past two seasons are the best two-year run since 2010 and ‘11 when they won 29 games.
“Expectations were high the whole season. I think overall we did a great job of meeting a lot of our expectations but, obviously, you want to be playing your best right now and towards the end of the season. I felt like we had a couple of losses at the end that we weren’t happy with but we’re looking, hopefully, to get totally healthy and get everybody back in the lineup. We’re looking forward to getting started.”
The Jackets will have to wait a couple of days to get started, as, being the fourth seed (one of their preseason goals) they earned a bye until the quarters so their first match isn’t until Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. When they play they’ll take on the winner of No. 5 Duke and the winner of Wednesday’s opening-rounder between No. 12-seed Miami and No. 13-seed Boston College.
Thorne feels getting a couple of days to observe their opponent and avoid the grind of having played for their second- or third-straight day is an important advantage.
“It does matter. There’s a little bit to say, ‘They got to play on the courts the day before and got into the tournament and got a win and they’re coming in to play you,’ but I’d much rather get the bye and go in as fresh as we possibly can. I think it’s an advantage but the ACC is so tough and whether it’s Duke or Miami or Boston College, it’s going to be a tough match.”
Georgia Tech has already bested all three potential opponents — winning at Miami, 5-1, on March 12, at Boston College, 5-2, on March 31, and against Duke at Byers, 4-3, on April 7 — but Thorne doesn’t see that as a big advantage.
“I think it’s a clean slate for everybody,” he said. “There are some people that come in looking for revenge and use that as a tool.”
In addition to being rested, the Jackets go in with a deep and talented roster that can play as many as 10. But the key sits at the top of the lineup, with Eubanks.
The No. 7 player in the nation (only No. 4 Petros Chrysochos of Wake Forest ranks higher in the ACC, although Eubanks beat him head-to-head, 6-4, 6-1), Eubanks is playing like the best player in the conference. Eubanks teams with senior Carlos Benito at No. 1 doubles (they are 4-4) but he looms largest at No. 1 singles, where he was 26-5 on the season, 16-2 in dual matches, 14-4 against ranked players and 11-1 against the ACC. He finished strong, winning nine of his last 10 matches.
“The doubles point is always big but if we can get the doubles point, then I know they feel that extra pressure of, ‘Wow, we have to find a way to beat Eubanks at one,’” Thorne said. “It puts pressure on all the rest of the team but they know that coming in. He’s been here three years now so people are used to that pressure but it is definitely added pressure.”
Further adding pressure is senior Cole Fiegel. He’s been a doubles good luck charm, going 23-6, 8-2 in ACC play and having done so with six different partners — freshmen Divar and Chris Yun, sophomores Phillip Gresk and Andrew Li, and juniors Michael Kay, Daniel Yun. Fiegel’s best work came with Li, as the duo went 14-3, 5-1 in ACC play. They’ve gone 4-1 at No. 2 doubles, 6-1 at three. Fiegel’s been as valuable in singles, going 22-15 (5-7 in ACC play) and has really found his niche, at No. 6 singles, where he’s 5-0.
“Cole has come through at the six spot and he’s had to move up in the lineup a little bit at times,” Thorne said. “We’ve had to change our lineup a little bit but he’s tough down there. He’s got a big lefty serve and hits heavy, very strong; he’s a senior, so I think he’s done a great job.”
Li had a strong year, going 19-12 overall, 5-3 in ACC play, and solidified No. 2 singles, where he’s 9-5. He’s also 4-3 against nationally ranked competition.
Benito had a solid year (17-17), and has been big in mentoring, and teaming with freshman Divar. The pair went 5-1 in the two spot in doubles.
Georgia Tech has gotten contributions from the entire roster have allowed them to play the hot hand behind Eubanks and Li.
“To have Eubanks and Andrew go out and win at the top of the lineup pretty consistently, then to have Carlos Divar come in at 4, 3 and 4 were spots last year that we really struggled. To have him come in and be able to fill that spot has helped our team tremendously,” Thorne said. “Then Chris Yun was in the lineup early, out of it a little bit and then back in recently. He’s done a great job of, to me, maturing within his game.
“What’s interesting, our team, I think we had to pick eight but we could play nine or 10 and we could maybe change it up each day and have new guys,” he added. “I’m really confident in all 10 of our guys that could get in the lineup. We’ve played all 10. They’ve all had opportunities. So it’s kind of unique in that way. Once we start the day in the lineup we have to stick with it but the next day you could be in. So that adds a little bit of excitement to their practice.”
What could also be exciting is the that last time Georgia Tech was 10 games over .500, they reached the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament and finished No. 13 in the nation — both high-water marks of the Kenny Thorne Era.
Matching that is certainly something to shoot for now that postseason is here.