Men’s tennis prepares for conference competition

Photo by Nate Jeffries

Spring sports would not be complete without tennis. With the ACC slate looming, the men’s team will carry a five-match winning streak into bouts against top opponents.

The Jackets have managed to minimize any growing pains they might have had after losing Nathan Rakitt and Casey Kay to graduation. They swept the MLK Invitational at the beginning of January and already have ten victories under their belt. The Jackets have consistently moved up in conference standings over the last three years and show every sign of continuing an upward trend. The Jackets begin their ACC slate this weekend with matches against Clemson and Florida State.

As the ACC season begins for men’s tennis, Jackets fans remain hopeful for continued success. In order for Tech to have a full season of consistent victories, the Jackets will have to overcome a few difficult match-ups.

Clemson and Florida State will be the first tough match-ups that the Jackets will have to overcome this season. It has been three years since Tech has bested the Tigers and 10 since they have defeated the Seminoles. Tech will compete against Clemson Friday in South Carolina. They will welcome Florida State to Atlanta on Sunday. Much like the Jackets, Clemson has started this season strong. Florida State, on the other hand, has had a bit more of a rough go of things so far.

Head Coach Kenny Thorne will use any overconfidence that the Tigers might have and any doubts that may be haunting Florida State to his advantage, but Tech has a significant losing streak to amend. Defeating both teams in the span of a single weekend (or even just one) would send a strong message to the rest of the conference from a team ranked seventh in the ACC.

Tech will have some time to regroup before they travel south to compete against Miami on the March 12. With a 3-1 record over the past four years of match-ups with the Hurricanes, the Jackets likely have the same mental advantage over Miami that Clemson and Florida State enjoy against Tech. With that in mind, Miami might serve as a brief reprieve before the rest of a difficult conference schedule.

Likely Tech’s most challenging opponent, Virginia has been at the top of the ranks in the ACC for the last three years. The Jackets will compete against the Cavaliers towards the end of the season after three back to back to back conference match-ups.

Virginia was swift to defend their first place spot in the ACC, opening the season with a nine game winning streak and not a single loss. Two of those nine victories were ACC match ups. Over the last five years Virginia has dominated Tech in every match-up. That is no surprise; the Cavaliers have produced such performers as Indian national team member and former two-time NCAA singles champion Somdev Devarrman.

Coach Thorne has accumulated a talented lineup that is bearing fruit as many of its talented players have begun to write the final chapters of their Tech careers. Junior Christopher Eubanks has consistently been one of the most carefully watched men’s tennis players on the collegiate circuit. A blue chip prospect out of high school, Eubanks has been in the spotlight since his collegiate debut and plays a leadership role despite having one year remaining in Atlanta. This year, the Jackets have welcomed another blue chip prospect to Tech’s lineup, Chris Yun. A local from Lassiter High School, Yun may well represent the future of Tech tennis. And if Yun moves up the ranks as quickly as Eubanks did, the jackets could become one of the most formidable teams in the ACC.

However, the performances of two athletes will not suffice. Senior Carlos Benito and junior Michael Kay, regular fixtures in Tech’s lineup, are expected to consistently contribute to Tech’s continued upward trend in the ACC standings. Benito has been a fixture in national rankings every year since his debut at Tech. Kay has spent the last three years establishing himself as a member of one of the best doubles teams in nation along with his brother, who graduated last year. Though Kay has lost the other half of his doubles team, there’s no doubt that his consistency on the court will continue.

Tech’s ACC slate seems like no more than a long list of formidable opponents. Such is life for Jackets in many aspects, from the football stadium to the basketball arena to the tennis courts. But with the likes of Benito and Eubanks propelling the Jackets for the matches looming ahead, and players like Yun providing optimism for the years to follow, that slate is less a death knell than an invitation for the Jackets to show that they
indeed belong.