April 21, 2018
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word –
On Sunday afternoon, they will share it, taking a final bow on Senior Day, prior to Georgia Tech’s hosting Boston College at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex in the regular season finale.
It’s a day they knew was coming and welcome.
“The past years, when we’ve had seniors experience Senior Day, it’s been awesome,” said Kay, who saw his brother, Casey, honored two years ago. “Everybody loves the moment. It seems like the seniors always play well because they’re appreciating the time out there. So I’m excited to go do exactly that and appreciate getting to compete out here. I’m definitely saddened that it’s coming to an end but at the same time I’m excited to play this weekend.”
Melendez admitted that the end of the collegiate road — really, the entire journey — kind of caught him by surprise.
“I feel like I was just a freshman last year and it’s coming down to our last home match,” said Melendez, with a laugh. “These past four years have flown by.”
The end also comes too soon for Yun, who is unable to play Sunday due to injury.
“Obviously, I wish I could be out there playing but it’s kind of crazy how it’s all led up to this,” he said. “This one last match, then we’re done. It’s gone by so fast. But it’s a good feeling to be recognized and to be with the people that we’ve become closest to in the last few years. It’s one of the best ways to go out — your closest friends, your family, they’re all there.”
While their amateur tennis careers may end Sunday at Georgia Tech their road began much further back than their arriving on The Flats.
“They grew up in the juniors playing together. They’re all from Georgia. So they knew each other long before they even came here,” said Head Coach Kenny Thorne, who recruited them all. “Then they came here and battled together for four years. It’s a very close group and they’re all very different, their own personalities. It’s a great thing.”
Their personalities differed as did their contributions, with each bringing something to the table.
Thorne appreciated Melendez’s positivity, and pointed to the Suwanee native’s improvement on the court.
“Elijah has probably been one of our most improved players over the last year — from not being in the lineup to playing as high as 2 or 3,” said Thorne. “He’s one of those guys that’s like, ‘Everything’s good. Everything’s going to be good in life,’ and kind of goes about it that way. He’s done a lot of this program.”
Charisma and sense of humor most stand out about the Marietta native.
“Daniel is a lot of fun to be around. I come back from every recruiting visit and guys are like, ‘Daniel is so funny. This guy is so great.’ People are saying they want to come here to be a teammate of his,” Thorne said. “He’s had some significant wins for our team. He’s one of those guys that under pressure is better. He just loves hitting the ball in the moment. He’s kind of fearless. That’s always a special thing to have.”
Kay’s tenacity and fierce competitiveness will be what Thorne most remembers about the Alpharetta native and team captain.
“Michael Kay has been one of the better leaders that we’ve had,” he said. “I said this earlier this year and I absolutely mean it, he is never out of fight in a tennis match. He could be down in a tiebreaker 6-1 and you’re playing to 7 and he wins a point and he firmly believes he’s going to come back and win that match. It’s contagious. It’s been really good. He’s done that every single match that he’s played at Georgia Tech, which is refreshing. That’s really unique.”
Playing for four years on The Flats has strengthened the seniors’ already strong bond.
“We were in the same academy and grew up playing tennis together and came through here and have been through all the ups and downs that college throws at you, together,” said Melendez. “You definitely bond being on a team, working through things — injuries, struggles in school, outside, whatever — you go through all that together. Those will definitely be friendships that will last after college for a long time.”
“We are really, really close,” agreed Yun. “Mike and Elijah share birthdays (birthdates, even, with both born Nov. 5, 1995). We grew up together, trained together, so we knew each other before we came here. It’s been unbelievable getting to play on the same team together, and just growing even closer these past four years.”
As with all classes, Kay, Melendez and Yun consider themselves brothers. It’s a description that fits but is somewhat unique, as Kay and Yun both played with their actual brothers while at Tech.
Michael played with Casey for two seasons, teaming up with him and reaching as high as No. 24 before finishing No. 38 in 2016. Daniel played his final two years with younger brother Chris, who finishes up his sophomore year Sunday.
Playing with their sibling put an already unique experience over the top.
“I would say that is probably the biggest highlight of my career,” said Kay. “Casey went through double-hip surgery and basically continued to have pain throughout the rest of his career and fought through it so he could play doubles with me. We had a great year and, at our student-athletes’ end-of-the-year banquet, he was voted Comeback Athlete of the Year, which was just awesome! It was awesome to be able to be a part of that and for us to be able to live out that dream of playing college doubles together.”
Daniel and Chris teamed up to go 3-1 in ‘16-17 and might have added on were it not for injuries. Regardless, there’s no taking away the experience they did have as a team.
“It’s something that’s priceless,” Yun said. “Obviously, we have the Kay brothers that went through the same thing but it’s been unreal how my best friend growing up then being at the school. We got to spend those two years together. Not many people can say they played a D-I college sport with their brother.”
For these senior class brothers, the toughest part of Sunday might actually have nothing to do with Boston College.
“I’m really excited for the match. I know I’m going to be really pumped to play,” said Kay. “As far as preparing for the emotions afterward when we’ll meet up as a team and everybody will talk, there’s probably really not much preparing. The emotions remain pretty high so I’m sure that’ll be an emotional experience.”
This meeting has become a tradition on Senior Day.
“We enjoy good time together right after the match,” said Thorne. “We all talk about some of the things that they’ve gone through throughout the years and it’s just a time to celebrate our seniors. It’s really a special time. It really is a testament to how much we care for each other and it’s always a good time.”
Thorne admitted he’ll have more fun looking back on his days with the Kay, Melendez and Yun than looking ahead to next year without them.
“We’ll miss them,“ he said. “They’ve each had their highs and their lows as we all do and they’ve battled through it and finished strong.
“Senior Day is naturally emotional for everybody,” he added. “You’ve gone through so much together for four years. Literally, at the end of it, it’s sort of that transition. You move on and they go on to a different part of life. That’s the business we’re in. It’s exciting nonetheless.”
Kay and Melendez, who graduate in a couple of weeks, and Yun, who graduates in the fall, have banked their memories and are eager to move ahead to wherever the future takes them.
“There have been a lot of good memories leading up to it,” said Yun. “I guess it’s slowly coming together, kind of realizing how far we’ve gotten and all the time that’s passed, all the memories we’ve made.”
“I’m going to miss (the team) a lot but at the same time I’m ready to get out and get into the real world, get a job and move on with my life,” said Melendez. “It’s definitely been a good chapter of my life.”
“I don’t think you really realize it all until it’s over,” said Kay. “Then you’re like, ‘Wow. So much put into it and it’s just kind of a surreal feeling that it’s coming to an end. I’m just feeling thankful for the time that I’ve gotten to have over the four years.”