April 23, 2017
The Good Word | Matt Winkeljohn
Once Cole Fiegel and Carlos Benito wrap up their college tennis careers, they’ll head in very different directions, yet Georgia Tech’s two seniors sort of chuckle when talking about starting out just about the same way on The Flats nearly four years ago after arriving from Alachua, Fla., and Madrid, Spain, respectively.
Benito and Fiegel will play their final home matches Sunday, when the No. 20-ranked Yellow Jackets (15-6, 7-4 ACC) play N.C. State on Senior Day at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex at noon unless Tech wins the right to host an NCAA regional in a few weeks.
“When I was a freshman, I was a mess,” recalled Benito. “The language wasn’t a help. It was time management, getting things done, and not waiting until the last minute.”
The same was true for Fiegel.
“When you first get here, you’re not really sure how to manage everything,” he said. “Definitely now I’m getting a lot more sleep than when I first got here, I was a mess. I would wait until the last night to study because that’s what I always did, then I would stay up the whole night and the next day at practice I’d be on like two or three hours of sleep.”
The Spaniard can hardly believe the time has come, while Fiegel is hardly thinking about it.
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” said Benito, who will graduate in a few weeks with a degree in business administration, and then return to Madrid. “These last four years have flown by so quickly.”
Neither player plans to try professional tennis. Fiegel has an internship this summer in Orlando, and will graduate in the fall with a degree in industrial engineering. He’s not focused on what’s left.
“Honestly, I feel like it’s something that’s going to hit me after it’s done because . . . even though we go into postseason after [Sunday], I still feel like we’re right in the middle of it,” said the 6-foot-3 left-hander. “Worst-case scenario, we have two post-season matches if we lose first round of ACCs and NCAAs or we could play another five or six weeks.
“Our goal is to be in the top 16 teams when the season ends, and then win our first two rounds in the NCAA and then we’re in the final 16 two weeks after that.”
Playing mostly at No. 2 and 3 singles, Benito is 16-17 this season and 77-71 in his career. He had an idea what was coming before arriving in Atlanta, as former teammate, family friend and fellow Spaniard Eduardo Segura recommended Tech. Once head coach Kenny Thorne began recruiting him, Benito didn’t take long to choose the Jackets.
“Eduardo Segura convinced me to come here,” he suggested. “I was playing some pro tournaments [as an amateur], and Kenny contacted me. I have two [top memories]: when I clinched on Eddie’s Senior Day [two years ago], and then against Virginia Tech in the quarters [of the ACCs]; it came down to my match last year.”
Fiegel, who is 21-15 this season at No. 4, 5 and 6 singles, and 80-63 in his career also chose Tech on the recommendation of other players, although his primary reason had nothing to do with tennis.
“Top engineering school,” he said, simply. “I knew I wanted to do engineering.”
Tennis soon won’t be nearly as big a part of the lives of these young men as it has been for many years.
Benito will begin working in a master’s program in Madrid in September, seeking a graduate degree in management. He also wants to try to play as a professional in Padel, a racquet sport played indoors, with walls in play, on a court about one-third the size of a tennis court.
“I’ve been playing way too many years, and it’s time to give it up,” he said. “I’m going to keep playing tennis, and stay active. I’m not going to be sedentary.”
After his summer internship with Voxx, an automotive electronics company, Fiegel will take a rare vacation, heading to the Dominican Republic.
Then, back to Tech for one more semester and for the first time, tennis will not be front and center. He’ll play a little, but, “Not super competitively,” said Fiegel, who has a team-best doubles record of 22-6 this season. “It will be more recreational. My body’s kind of going to hang it up for a while.”
He’ll take with him powerful tennis memories.
“My freshman year, we were playing South Carolina when Casey [Kay] clinched the match for us before he had to get hip surgery. That was a big win for us because the year before I came, the team slipped out of the rankings and South Carolina was a top 25 team,” Cole said.
“That was a really cool experience because I had never been a part of a team win where you rush the court, and tackle the guy that wins the last match.”
Benito is looking forward to travel, for a change, but is also at times wistful.
“Yeah, I’m kind of bittersweet that I’m going to leave, and I’m not going to say forever, but I’m not going to see a lot of my teammates for a while,” he said. “But I’m looking forward to going home and being with my family, and friends.
The pair may be heading in different directions but they share the commonality of forever being Yellow Jackets.