March 16, 2018
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word –
THE FLATS — Michael Kay is not one to get cheated.
He’s certainly gotten the most out of his college experience at Georgia Tech, be it on the tennis court, in the classroom or in the community.
And that’s not changing anytime soon, especially now in his senior season. If anything, Kay has cast an even wider net in his final go-round.
“It’s been a really, really busy time,” said the Alpharetta native, who graduates in May with a degree in business administration. “I have 19 hours this semester trying to finish up my degree. I’m just super busy. So I’m excited to finish up with that and hopefully get a little bit of time off then take the next steps and just see where life takes me. But I’m very excited to graduate.”
Kay actually added a finance minor this semester and insisted on finishing up his final 19 credit hours this semester.
“I decided I wanted to add a minor to my degree and just figured, ‘What the heck. I’ll just crank it out and see if I can get it done,’” he said. “It’s a struggle but I’ll be done with it pretty soon and then it won’t be so bad.”
Head coach Kenny Thorne wasn’t surprised Kay decided to take on all 19 hours at once.
“He is pretty determined that way,” said Thorne with a laugh. “He’s a pretty disciplined guy. For him to do that is not easy but he’s doing it and doing well with it.”
Doing the task he takes on, no matter how seemingly Herculean, and doing it well is the Kay way. You could say it’s the Kay way or the highway, especially for Yellow Jackets men’s tennis.
“He will never give in on one point,” said Thorne. “He could have a tough match and be losing and you look down at the court and you always feel like he can get back in it. He has that kind of attitude and that kind of demeanor on the court. As far as attitude and effort, he’s as good as we’ve had at Georgia Tech.”
He’s good enough to actually have two wins over former Yellow Jacket No. 1 and current pro Chris Eubanks.
“He had a good game for Chris back when he played him. He was a nightmare for Chris for a little while,” said Thorne.
Kay’s staying mum on the subject.
“I can’t tell you that,” he said, with a laugh. “That’s a trade secret.”
Kay is, however, willing to share what he’s learned in winning big matches.
That’s something he hopes he and the Jackets (5-7, 1-1) can do Sunday afternoon in Tallahassee against No. 19 Florida State (17-1, 2-0) at the Scott Speicher Tennis Center, where the Seminoles are 9-0 this season.
It’s part of his responsibility as a senior.
“I think all of us as upperclassmen try and explain, ‘We’ve been here before. We’ve gotten these wins before,’” he said. “We’ve had some close ones that didn’t quite go our way this year so far but I think each of the guys are starting to see from what some of us tell them and also just from playing these schools, that the numbers and the rankings, in a lot of cases, don’t matter. I think we’re a great team and I think all of us are seeing that. I think the guys are excited to have that opportunity to go get some big wins.”
Kay has been a leader by example in that regard, earning wins like his three-set (7-5, 3-6, 6-0) clincher against Miami on March 2 at Byers Complex. Playing at No. 5, he is 8-3 in dual matches (12-9 overall), and 2-0 in ACC play. He’s hot right having won four of his last five matches.
He’s even hotter in doubles, as he and partner sophomore Carlos Divar are ranked No. 13 in the country, sporting a 13-4 overall record, 9-2 record in dual matches – all at No. 1. They’ve won seven of their last nine matches – four times surrendering three or fewer games — and have knocked off two top-10 teams (Then-No. 8 Robert Loeb and Jan Zielinski of Georgia on Feb. 9, and then-No. 3 Rodrigo Banzer and Leonardo Telles of Texas on Feb. 25).
They’ll look to beat another ranked team on Sunday when they face either the team of Guy Iradukunda and Alex Knaff, currently ranked No. 18, or Jose Garcia and Lucas Poullain, who are 19.
“I think they’ve done a good job,” said Thorne. “When you’re playing only one set you have to come out and go strong. To be as consistent as they’ve been, it’s not easy in this day in college tennis doubles. They’ve really come out and started strong in each of their matches.”
Divar feels a strong connection with Kay.
“I feel very comfortable playing doubles with Mike. Our chemistry is really good in and off court,” he said. “So far this season we are playing a very high tennis level, but we both know we can play even better and that we can do something special this season.”
They’re doing that and looking to move up from 13. It’s Kay’s second time in the top 25 — he also did it two years ago, when he and older brother, Casey, reached No. 24. This time might be even more special, as he’s more appreciative and wants to keep climbing.
“Casey and I, we’d played doubles before and, obviously, knew each other’s games very well and knew we could do great and had great chemistry,” he said. “But that was the first time I had gone up the ranks like that so it was really cool when it happened but it was also sort of surprising at the same time. This time, being the second time around, I would say it’s maybe more comfortable and a little more like we’re expecting to keep going and do that. Divar and I get along great.
“We’re just trying to trust our game and see how far we can take it,” he added. “We really believe in ourselves when we go out there and play and believe that we can beat anybody we’re stepping on the court with. It’s awesome to have the ranking but we’re really just focusing on playing great, making sure we keep it up every time we go out there.”
The duo has gotten along pretty much from the beginning.
“We tried different combos in the fall,” Thorne remembered. “Sometimes on paper, you look at it and you go, ‘Wow, his style and his style should match up well,’ but they don’t gel well as a team. We put (Kay and Divar) together. They complemented each other really well. They came off the court and were like, ‘Man, I really like playing with him.’ Both of them said it. They’ve just played better and better every match. It’s been a good combination for us.”
Experience shows that most combinations with Kay are good ones. Thorne feels that’s no coincidence.
“You don’t gain respect without integrity and he’s a good person, very competitive. He’s also on SAAB (Student-Athlete Advisory Board), he’s on a lot of different leadership boards,” Thorne said. “He’s gained respect, obviously, from being an upperclassman, but at the same time, he’s done a lot of other things. Taking care of school and being on SAAB has really helped him develop his leadership skills. He’s not one to get in your face all the time but if he tells you something, people listen.”
In addition to SAAB, where he’s been since his sophomore year, Kay has taken on a plethora of initiatives within the student community. He’s especially proud of the Student-Athlete Real Estate Club, which he started with and redshirt-junior linebacker Tyler Cooksey, also a SAAB rep.
“I’m planning on going into real estate finance,” said Kay. “I’ve been searching through my options in that area.”
On Feb. 28, Kay was rewarded for his initiatives, being named one of four Yellow Jackets student-athletes to win the 2018 Georgia Tech Weaver-James-Corrigan Award for ACC Postgraduate studies.
Michael still finds time to do his own thing, as he’s an avid guitar player and also dabbles in videography, art, snowboarding, and longboarding. With time at a premium, his hobbies have scaled back but he’ll still find time to play guitar.
“Guitar is definitely at the top,” said Kay, a big fan of Eric Clapton. “I’ll get a few free minutes here and there between classes or something, sometimes I’ll just pick it up and play. I love music. So that that’s definitely one of my favorite things to do.”
He may not be “Slowhand,” but he’s shown he can play.
“He plays the guitar probably not as good as he says he plays it but he actually plays it pretty well,” said Thorne, with a laugh. “I’ve listened to him. He was pretty darned good and it was fun listening to him.”
Kay knows his college career is coming to a close so he plans on having the most fun he can.
“I’ve been trying to spend time with guys on the team,” he said. “Graduating is going to be a bittersweet thing and I’m definitely going to miss this whole team environment. Everybody tells you when you come in as freshmen, ‘Oh, it’s going to fly by.’ You’re always kind of like, ‘Yeah, yeah, everybody says that.’ You don’t know until you’re going into your senior year and you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this has just flown by.’”