As the season draws to a close, the No. 2-ranked men’s tennis team has its eye set on a national championship. The march to the title is bittersweet, however, for it will be the final one for senior captains and all-Americans Dillon Pottish, Chris Goodwin and Will Humphreys.
“Words cannot express how much these guys mean to me,” Head Coach John Browning said. “They have carried the program for the last four years, and it is brutal to lose them. I have been absolutely blessed to have their personalities, leadership and desire.”
Goodwin arrived at Emory four years ago as a highly touted blue-chip recruit, the only member of the trio to join the team in the traditional manner.
Humphreys made the team as a walk-on, while Pottish transferred to Emory after his freshmen year.
After three years as an Eagle, Pottish possesses by far the best record at the number-one singles position in the school’s history. Though he is incredibly talented, his work ethic is what truly sets him apart.
“I have been coaching for 20 years, and I have never had a guy work this hard,” Browning said. “To beat Dillon, you have to bleed all over the court, because he’s not going to make it easy for you. When kids finish playing him, they looked like they have run a marathon.”
However, as the captain of an inexperienced team which is currently starting four freshmen, the work Pottish does off the court is just as important as the work he does on it.
“Dillon leads by example,” freshman Brian Kowalski said. “We have a young line-up, and he has helped guide us, showing us how we can develop and mature.”
Pottish makes a conscious effort to be a positive influence on his teammates.
“By working hard and doing the right things on and off the court, I try to be good role model for the younger kids on the team,” Pottish said. “I think that sends a message that they can take with them throughout their college careers, as tennis players and as students in general.”
There were great expectations for Goodwin when he joined the team. Not only was he an elite junior player and five-star recruit, but his older brother graduated as arguably the most decorated player in Emory tennis history at the time.
While Pottish is known for his incredible work ethic Goodwin, who recently claimed the record for most singles wins in Emory men’s tennis history and will return to the team next year as an assistant coach, is set apart by his tremendous athletic ability.
“Chris has the best hand-eye coordination of any guy I have ever coached,” Browning said. “He took up golf a year ago and within 6 months was shooting in the 80s — he is just that kind of athlete.”
Pottish and Goodwin have played number one and number two singles, respectively, since their sophomore years. For most of that time they have widely been considered the two best players in the nation.
“Coach always tells the team that Chris and I are the top two players in the country, and that puts a lot of pressure on us to perform,” Pottish said.
This situation culminated last when they played each other, Eagle versus Eagle, for the NCAA Division III Men’s Singles National Championship, a match in which Goodwin ultimately prevailed.
“I would have rather played anyone else in that tournament besides Pottish, and not just because he was the best player out there,” Goodwin said.
“I do not like playing my teammates in tournaments because I do not feel the same desire to dominate them. It was awkward to play him in the finals like that.”
For Pottish that loss, along with the Eagles’ loss in the team finals, provided fuel for his fire this season.
“I learned a lot form that match,” Pottish said. “It is a lot of motivation for this year, and it was an experience that was good for me as both a person and a tennis player because I know it will push me.”
Humphreys’ route to the team was an unlikely one. When Humphreys was a senior in high school, he told Browning that he wanted to play tennis for Emory.
Browning responded that he welcomes students to attempt to walk-on, but privately thought that this overweight one-star recruit would never play for him. Four years later Humphreys is an indispensable component of one of the best tennis programs in the country.
“His progression is remarkable,” Browning said. “He barely made the team as a walk on, did not play his first two years, but by his junior year was a captain, an all-American, and one of the reasons why we made the NCAA team finals. It is pretty amazing.”
Not only does Humphreys excel on the court, but he is the most vocal leader on the team, exciting and preparing his teammates before every match.
“Will has everything you want in a leader,” Kowalski said. “He is caring, but he can get loud and in your face to put you back down to your level. He keeps the team in check, but also gets us pumped up and gives us motivation.”
With Pottish, Goodwin and Humphreys leaving, an era in Emory men’s tennis is drawing to a close.
“These seniors are really the only reason why we are undefeated and UAA champions right now,” Kowalski said. “They have been the glue for this team so far, and it is hard to imagine what it will be like next year. It makes me sad to know that they’re going to leave and no longer be a part of the team.”
— Contact Bennett Ostdiek