How can you top perfection?
That’s the question that the Emory men’s tennis team must answer in 2013, after their 2012 season ended with a spotless 25-0 record and a Division III championship.
“Obviously coming off of a national championship … there is a lot of pressure and speculation about how well we will do this year,” freshman Declan Hahn said. “I would say we don’t have any concrete goals. We obviously want to win every match, but as of now we’re more focused on getting better and working hard each day.”
Hahn is one of a handful of talented freshmen that the Eagles expect to make an immediate impact on their 2013 squad. Head Coach John Browning cited the team’s incoming class as the first step towards filling the void left by departing superstar seniors Dillon Pottish and Chris Goodwin.
“They’re extremely talented and competitive,” Browning said. “They’re experienced. Not your typical freshman class that needs to get their feet wet for a year.”
The whole team has had plenty of time to get their feet wet, as practices started in the early fall. The Eagles took part in two early-season three-day tournaments, first in the International Tennis Association (ITA) South Atlantic Region Championships from Sep. 28-30, then in the ITA National Small College Championships from Oct. 11-13.
The South Atlantic Region Championships were highlighted by the play of Emory juniors Jackson Isaacs and Nick Szczurek.
Isaacs and Szczurek took home first place in doubles competition, earning both All-American honors and the opportunity to move on to the National Small College Championships.
In the singles competition, junior Dylan Kady and sophomore Ian Wagner won five and three matches, respectively.
Browning was impressed by his team’s showing in the early-season tournaments.
“We have a very good core group of kids,” he said. “Their play in the fall will hopefully translate to big things in the spring.”
From October to January, the team has been practicing without coaches, but they haven’t missed a beat. Hahn credited the team’s hard work in the offseason — both on the tennis courts and in the weight room — to keeping their focus.
“While many teams might take those months off and then have to get back into shape when the season started, we could just continue improving because we were all in good shape from working hard in the offseason.” he said.
Now that Browning and his staff are reunited with the players, the Eagles are ready to roll again.
“Every day is something different,” Browning said, citing singles, doubles, drills and conditioning as the team’s main focus in practice. “We keep it intense.”
The Eagles certainly have the talent to match last year’s record. But, as Browning notes, much of it is young.
“[Last year] really was a perfect season,” Browning said. “We have a new team. We have a young team. But we have a talented team.”
The team’s first step towards defending their title is a match against Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College on Friday, Feb. 8 at 1 p.m., promptly followed by a match against Oglethorpe University at 5 p.m.
— By Ryan Smith