May 6, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
School’’s out for summer, and the Georgia Tech men’s tennis team is California dreaming ahead of next week’s NCAA tournament action in Los Angeles.
Sure, the 33rd-ranked Yellow Jackets (16-8) would prefer to host first and second round matches, but when they learned that they’ll instead travel to play No. 46 UC Santa Barbara (17-6) next Friday at USC it didn’t feel like a penalty.
“I can’t wait to get out there…and have the water near,” said sophomore Christopher Eubanks, the ACC’s player of the year. “Daniel [Yun] made the comment probably a minute after they said we would play at Southern Cal, ‘I’ve got to go buy a new swim suit.’ “
Head coach Kenny Thorne is not thinking about the ocean, at least not yet. He’s planning several days of practice before Tuesday’s trip, and more practice in L.A. Actually, he first thought about this kind of cross-country journey months ago when he scheduled January matches at UCLA against New Mexico and the Bruins.
“When you think of NCAAs, you’re thinking about a new experience,” he said. “To me, that’s the excitement behind the guys going out to California and playing a new team. We hadn’t played any of these teams the last two seasons.
“We went out earlier this year to UCLA for the purpose knowing we could go anywhere during NCAAs. We wanted to host, but we’re not so that was a good opportunity to get the guys out in a different environment, in a different time zone, see different schools. We did it on purpose so you get used to it.”
Before the Jackets face the Gauchos Friday at 5 p.m. Eastern time, No. 11 USC will square off against UNLV. Friday’s winners will meet Saturday with that winner advancing to the NCAA’s round of 16 beginning May 19 in Tulsa.
Tech’s having its best season since 2011 after going 8-4 in the ACC and the Jackets’ schedule has certainly prepared them. Six of their eight losses were to teams ranked in the top seven (No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 North Carolina, No. 6 Wake Forest and No. 7 Georgia), and the other two were on the road.
With the spring semester ending this week, the Jackets have a little extra spring in their steps ahead of this road trip.
“It’s a great time,” Thorne said. “You’re able to extend the conditioning or flexibility times or some things that can get short-cutted sometimes by classes. You treat them as they’re out of exams like professionals, and they get to train like a professional…
“I can tell just by demeanor when they’re done with exams. They come in and they’re usually on a high that day, crash the next day and then they’re back up.”
Eubanks has friends who attend USC, and an aunt living in the Los Angeles area. He’s looking forward to seeing them, and facing new players. With a 32-6 record, including a mark of 11-1 in the ACC, he’ll be seeded No. 7 in the NCAA Singles Championship May 25-30 in Tulsa after the team completion.
“I do a lot [of scouting] on my own. Technology has really helped us out with different YouTube channels, especially out on the West Coast,” he said. “Other sports have the luxury of being able to find video of who they’re going to play. Now, there’s a little more accessibility and we can call friends at other schools.”
Thorne said the Jackets will be careful not to over-do it when they break down opponents.
“The bottom line is we’ve got to go out there and play the way we play,” he suggested. “You’re going to adapt to your opponent, but not a ton. We can only do what we can do. We just want to get them into the environment a little earlier than we normally would.”
With no classes to worry about, Tech will travel Tuesday. The Jackets have work to do first, and maybe they’ll break down their coach.
“We think that if we pester Kenny enough maybe one of the first days he’ll let us go and get it out of our system and then it will be right back to business,” Eubanks said. “We’re hoping we can stay on Kenny’s back, finish these practices well here, have a good day of practice there and maybe he’ll let us go.”