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The Blank Page: Hunting For Gators

Courtesy: UNCW Athletic Communications  
Release: 01/31/2013
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A Trip to the Sunshine State, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2012

Hi everyone! I am sorry for writing the blog with a few days delay - school has picked up and I had to finish my exams this week before I could tell you about our trip to Gainesville, Fla.

We left really early on Thursday morning. Coach brought his "A" game and arrived on time to pick us up from the Wagoner Hall at 7:15 am. The trip was pretty long, but we always have a good time travelling as a team. Around 1 p.m., Coach made a decision to stop at Pita Pit, however, it was closed and we had no choice but to go to a pizza place. Later that day Coach called his own decision "terrible" because we had to wait for our food for quite a while. Pizza was good, though!

I have been to quite a few universities in my three and a half years here and I have to say that the Gators' tennis facilities are one of the nicest in the country. It wasn't about warm weather or a very nice facility - our guys really appreciated the hospitality tent that was set for the four teams that were competing in the Kick-Off Weekend. It was perfect weather for tennis - it was extremely nice with no wind and some clouds and we all enjoyed it a lot. After practice we went to Ruby Tuesday's for dinner. I would like to say a few more words about "Ruby T's" but it is a bit too early - but you WILL hear about it.

Friday was our preparation day. We had the exact same schedule that we were going to have on the game day - Saturday. We arrived at the courts around 1 p.m. and had a pretty good practice. I like practice the day before a match since it's mostly rhythm hitting and doubles. Everyone seemed to be ready to play the Jaguars of the University of South Alabama the next day. We knew that they would come strong and fiery against us and we were getting ready to give them a good response. We went back to the hotel to take a shower and also because Coach Taylor had to curl his hair. Later that night we went to...can you guess? We went to Ruby Tuesday's again. Coach's call. I guess he really likes this place. We had a meeting that night and went to bed knowing that tomorrow is going to be a tough match.

The first match of the day was St. John's vs. U of Florida. When the pre-warm up rituals were completed, we started hitting on the back bay of the courts while the first match was still going. Our start time for the match was 1 p.m. and we were right on schedule. We started with doubles as usual, however, with a new rule that was introduced earlier this year - if the game gets to 40:40 the teams play a deciding point for that game. Reilly and Kaue got an early break at No. 3, giving the rest of us some confidence as they rolled through their opponents. Sam and Rafa didn't seem to have too many problems at No. 2  after getting a 2-break lead. The beginning was a little slow for Coop and I, but we got into the game and were leading 7-4 when the double point was decided. Kaue and Reilly won 8-2 and Rafa and Sam won 8-4. After a few minutes for a break, we jumped straight into the singles matches.

It seemed like we started the way we wanted. From the very beginning, there were breaks on courts 3, 4 and 5. Coop was struggling in the first set, but came back strong and won 7-5. I was lucky enough to be first off the court providing another point for the Seahawks towards overall score and a chance to get to the Round of 32. I felt like it gave a lot of confidence to the rest of the team knowing that we are leading 2-0. Sam and Kaue finished their matches pretty handily in two quick sets. Not many things went right for Pedro and Rafa. Both had their struggles to come back in score and even though they fought hard we lost on those two courts. Coop was last off the court bringing our total score to 5-2. After a short meeting we had to go eat. Coach's choice was Ruby Tuesday's, but the guys could not handle it three nights in a row and the team voted to go to Macaroni Grill.

As we walked into Macaroni Grill we ran into former Seahawk swimmer Sam Bonen-Clark. It was so unexpected and odd to see a person from UNCW all the way down in Gainesville. She was extremely nice and we were really glad to see her. After we ate some pasta we had about half an hour to relax and walk around the shopping mall. We got back to the hotel around 8 p.m. and went to get some rest before the big day. We've already had a few matches against top teams in the country and we knew we have to bring s lot of mental toughness and only then would we be in a position to beat such a team.

We had the exact same schedule except for the fact that we had to check out from the hotel. We did our pre-match routine, warmed up and were ready to take on the Gators. The weather was great and there was a big crowd watching the match. It was not our first time playing against the crowd, but it's always a bit harder for the visiting team when so many people cheer against you.  We started doubles with a lot of intensity and got a lot of momentum going. Rafa and Sam got a break straight away. We got a break at 2-2 and Reilly and Kaue got a break at 4-4. We kept on pushing and won at No. 3 and No. 1. We got the doubles point, but we knew it's only the beginning and the Gators will be fighting in singles.

The environment was awesome. Our guys were bringing a lot of fire and the crowd was into the match and cheered a lot. From the very beginning, Coop, Reilly and I were struggling in our matches and lost our first sets pretty fast. On the other hand, Sam, Rafa and Kaue got their first sets and it seemed like we got our momentum going with Rafa getting a break in the second set, Coop winning the second set and I was serving at 4-2 in the second set. Our opponents played extremely well in those moments and they broke our momentum. I lost a very long and tight second set that I could have and should have probably won. Reilly didn't get to play the way he wanted and lost his match as well. At the same time Rafa won at No. 1 and the overall score is 2-all. We needed to get two out of three matches to win and to advance to the top-16.

Coop got an early break in the very beginning of the third set and went up, 3-0, however he was broken and ended up at 4-4 on his court. Sam had two match points on his opponent's serve, which he did not win. He went into a tiebreaker and lost it really tight, 7-6 (5). Coop was just a few points away from breaking to lead 5-4, but his opponent served well and kept serve. At the same time, Kaue was coming back from two breaks down. It was 4-3 and Kaue's opponent was serving to get the lead of 5-3. We were really close to winning all three of these matches, but came up short and just a few points away of beating a team that is in top-12 in the country. We lost at No. 2 and No. 4. Sam went into a third set and didn't get to finish.

We were extremely close to winning the match and Florida barely escaped, but it gave us a lot of confidence knowing that we are totally capable of beating a team like that. While everyone was not happy about losing, I think overall our team is very confident and excited about our potential.  I have to admit that the hospitality of U of Florida was above any expectation and the way they treated us was just great. We also received DVDs with our matches and all of us were excited to watch and analyze our matches.

The ride back seemed to be much faster. Taylor cheated on his diet and ate a lot of cookies and burgers on the way home. I got to travel with Coach and we debated on quite a few issues and just recalled some of our matches in the last few years. Those conversations always bring out the best out in Coach, so here is a quote from the philosophical conversation that occurred in the van: "The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago. The Next best time is today." Well said, Coach. Well said.

Reaching New Heights, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012

This year the tournament started unusually early - we had matches Thursday morning, which meant that we had to leave Wednesday at Noon in order to have some time to practice up in Cary. The facility that was chosen for the event, Cary Tennis Park, has about 30 courts and appeared to be extremely nice; however there were no free courts to practice on Wednesday afternoon and Coach made a strategic decision to practice on N.C. State's courts.  After we grabbed some dinner at an Italian restaurant by NC State's campus (where Pedro semi-jokingly complained about the classical music that was playing at the restaurant) we had to split.

We got very lucky to stay with two awesome families : The Wetherells - the parents of our former captain - Dubs (Alex Wetherell), and The Reilly's - the parents of our teammate Reilly (Michael). Sam, Rafa, Coop and I got to stay at the Wetherells and the rest of the team stayed at the Reillys. You can't even compare how much nicer it is to stay with a family rather than being in a hotel and I think that helped us through this long trip of five days.

The format of the tournament was a bit different. We usually start with doubles and then go into singles. Not this time. First curve ball - two singles on the first day and no doubles matches. Since there were 30 courts at the site we got to play simultaneously most of the time and had coaches move around the facility to watch our matches. It was a long, but successful day for the Seahawks; finished with a record of 12-2 and even in the two matches that we lost, Pedro and Kaue had chances. This meant that of the Top 32 players in the Region, we had six of them.  We got done really late and, of course, one of us got to play the last match of the day - it seems like a tradition. It is funny, but as our Coach always says, "we will be the first ones here and the last ones to leave. We are here to compete." I have to say that it happens every time and works out in our favor most of the time.

It rained overnight and the courts were too wet to start doubles on time. The delay was about an hour and a half which was not too bad. Everyone got to play a doubles match except for Coop and me, because we were seeded and received a bye. We had some extra time to sleep and get ready for our singles. I have to mention that this is the first time this tournament is being played outdoors and we couldn't be happier about it. However, bad weather could have taken us back indoors. Most of us played very tight matches that unfortunately did not go our way, except for Sam - his opponent pulled out and Sam was getting ready to play the round of 16 later that afternoon.

All of us were done for the day when it was Sam's turn to play the match in order to get into the quarters. Another thing that is very important to mention - there has been only one (!) Seahawk EVER to reach the Round of 16 at the Regionals until that day. Well, Sam changed that number.  The first set seemed to be pretty easy for Sam, however, the second set got tighter and the UNC player got a little luckier and got the set on the tiebreak. Sam figured the way to play and kept attacking through the third set to win the match. He was the only one left in the singles draw, and the first Seahawk ever to reach the quarterfinals in the Regionals.

That night, we all were supposed to go to Reilly's house for a dinner/cookout that the family was organizing. We all were very excited to go. H however, it was pretty late and we had a very long day. We needed some rest and Coach decided to cancel the fancy dinner for the four of us that stayed at Dubs' house. The rest of the guys went back to Reilly's house and had a great dinner. I regret that we did not go - I heard that the food was awesome and I wish we could have a team dinner. We still had to get some food and we stopped by an Indian Cuisine just by the house where we stayed. Indian food is a tradition - coach is even thinking of starting to rank and write reviews about all the Indian places we go to around the country.

Next day was mostly doubles day. I can't speak for the team, but it was definitely my favorite. Our team likes to play doubles a lot and we pride ourselves on the energy and pressure we bring on the court, but we also enjoy it a lot. It was time to enjoy ourselves in doubles! I am so excited to write about doubles that I can go on for quite a bit, but let me tell you about the day. All of us had to play two doubles matches. Kaue and Reilly lost on the previous day, so they were cheering for the rest of us. Coop and I brought enough energy and pressure to win both matches handily. Blitz and Pedro got some good things going for them and won both matches. Rafa and Sam won both matches as well. Sam lost his singles match but played well. I am sure he learned a lot from the match and next time will do even better. At the end of the day we technically had a player in the best eight players of the region and three doubles teams in the best 16 doubles in our region (and still playing).  Not a bad day for the Seahawks.

I have to mention the dinner we had that night. Mr. and Mrs. Wetherell grilled out and had so much great food it was just awesome! We got to eat on the back porch that had a fireplace and watched the UNC-DUKE football game. A perfect way to finish a great day. I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Wetherell for hosting us and for a great dinner that night (and for putting up with all the mess that Rafa was leaving behind).

It was Sunday and the fourth day of the tournament. Everyone was sore and tired but we were playing only two doubles matches a day - piece of cake. We played the first match against the second-seeded team from Duke (neither Coop nor I knew about it at a time - we never check the draw or the ranking of the team we play). It was a tough match and it seemed that the Duke team was a bit surprised by the pressure we brought. We ended up winning the match, 8-5. At the same time Pedro and Blitz had a great chance against a team from UNC, leading 4-0, but UNC did a good job of coming back and ended up winning, 8-5. It was a bitter loss.  Rafa and Sam played really well but lost in a heartbreaking tiebreak after serving for the match at 7-6. Coop and I were getting ready to play the semifinal match when we figured out that one of the guys from the Elon team that we had to play got injured and had to go to a hospital. He could have been defaulted but our Coach told the main referee, "we'll wait as long as they need - we want to play the match."

It was the same team that Coop and I had lost to in the previous tournament at Wake Forest. We really wanted to play them again. The match was delayed for about two hours. The player's injury was not too bad and even though he had a wrap over his left hand he played really well. It was bad luck for the Elon team but we respected his will to compete even if he was injured. It was a tight match with quite a few breaks on both sides. We ended up winning 8-6 and getting our revenge! We were going to be the first UNCW team to make the finals of the Regional and have a shot for the automatic bid into the 20-team National Indoors.

Since it was Sunday afternoon Taylor had to pick up five guys and bring them back to campus. Blitz, Coop and I went to get some rest and coach assured us that we could pick a place to get dinner. When Coach came back to pick us up for dinner Coop took the initiative and decided to go to Olive Garden.  When Coach wondered if we really want to go to a place that is 25 minutes away Coop imitated coach's favorite expression by saying, "That's right." The dinner was great and we had plenty of time to just relax and get ready for the final.

It was a weird feeling; the facility was empty (well, it was Monday morning, what should I expect?). Sixty-four doubles teams had started and now there were only two remaining.  We warmed up and the referee notified us that apparently the final match is always two out of three sets. Oh well, we were a bit surprised but it didn't make much difference. The score of the match would not tell you much, but we know we had our chances. Our opponents were good but we felt that we are right there; we needed just a little bit more. Unfortunately, it did not go our way.  We list to the No. 1 team from Duke in a close two sets.

Overall, the tournament was very successful for us. Everyone had some good wins, Sam reached the quarterfinal and Coop and I reached the finals. These were big steps that no Seahawks had done before. We were proud of ourselves and could see clearer what parts of our game we needed to work on. Now it's time to keep on working and getting ready for this weekend's "hidden dual" matches. But before that...

I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Wetherell, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Reilly, for being so kind and letting us stay with them! We appreciate it a lot! Another shout out goes out to Sasha Abed - a great friend of mine and a co-worker at a summer internship that cheered for us through the weekend! Thanks to everyone who came out and cheered for us!

Thank you for reading the blog and hope to see you on Friday, November 2, at our home tournament.  We love playing at the Birdcage!

GO SEAHAWKS!

Back In Black, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012
Well, it's about time to tell you about our last trip to the ITA Regionals, where the best players in the region came to compete in Cary, N.C. The Regionals are considered one of the most important tournaments of the fall since it's the best opportunity to play players that are nationally ranked and it serves as the qualifier for the National Indoors. It has been on our calendar for a while and we felt ready to come and compete "Seahawk Style."
 

      So here we go. It has been a tradition Kinshuk ("Good Karma with Sharma") started a few years ago, Now it's my turn to write the blog. Please be aware that English is my third language and the highest grade I got in my English and Lit classes was a B+.  But welcome to my blog about what life is like for a UNCW men's tennis player.

      There are a lot of things that happened this weekend at the Wake Forest Fall Invitational in Winston Salem.  We left Wilmington on Thursday at Noon. It was really cool to see that Coach was bringing his A game and picked us up on time by Wagoner Hall (our on campus cafeteria). We traveled in two mini-vans and I got to be with Taylor, Blitz (Zach), Sam and Coop (Chris). The ride was extremely funny - everyone was very excited about the tournament and the good mood caused a lot of good jokes in the car. The four-hour ride went by in a blink of an eye. We got to Winston-Salem around 5 p.m. and got to practice at Wake Forest's facility. There were 12 outdoor and 8 indoor courts at the facility just by the football Stadium. It's the same site as where they play the $250,000 ATP Event Winston Salem Open.

      After practice, we went to Ruby Tuesday's for dinner. Since it was Rafa's birthday he got a little cupcake and a phone number written with chocolate syrup on the plate - it made Rafa blush! The whole team was singing happy birthday to Rafa which made him blush even more. We had a meeting with coach that night; I like those meetings. They give confidence to the players going into the first day of the tournament. It's nice to know how the day is planned and how many matches we are playing the next day. We got some good sleep and got ready to battle it out since we knew every day would be a LONG day.

      The pairings for double were as follows: Blitz and Pedro, Reilly (Michael) and Kaue, Sam and Rafa. Coop, unfortunately, got to play doubles with me. All of us played two doubles matches and had a singles to follow. Blitz, Reiley and Cheers (Matt) got to play indoors, while the rest of the team got to play outdoors. I was pretty happy about playing outdoors - it was a nice and sunny 65 degree weather with no wind, and playing outside was just perfect. Our overall record for the day was 17-4, which is pretty good.

      We came back to the hotel around 8 p.m. after getting dinner at the same Ruby Tuesday's that we ate the night before. Another meeting with coaches and we are headed to our beds. We all know that tomorrow will be a bit tougher. Saturday was a hard day with a doubles match and two singles matches to follow. It was really challenging for our coaches to keep up with the matches since the facility was spread out and most of us played at the same time. A lot of times we had to play for quite some time without anyone cheering for us and it was just another challenge that we had to face. After all this is Fall and things like that would not happen in Spring.

      On a positive note, it was really nice that Coop's mom and brother came all the way from Colorado to cheer for us at the tournament. It is always exciting when family members come to cheer, especially if they live so far away. Another really cool thing that happened that day was a few facts that Blitz and Reilly figured out about our coach's past. Coach Choboy - the current head coach of the N.C. State tennis team used to coach Coach DuBois in his college days at Charleston Southern and told the guys some things that we never heard. The funniest one was our coach's nickname in college - "Chizzler." Apparently, chizzling is a slang term for slicing the ball and that is what our coach used to do all the time in his college career. So from now on we refer to Coach as "The Chizzler."

      So let me jump back to the tournament. We had a tough day, but some good results as well. Our doubles definitely got better and in singles we had plenty of success with chizzling and battling our way through. I have to mention that there were quite a few distractions Saturday. There was a high school state band competition at the football stadium and there was a lot of noise distracting the players. It was just another challenge that we had to work through and that made us a little tougher. The day is over and while everyone is having a nice weekend we are getting ready for the final day of the tournament and we are pumped up to finish it the Seahawk way and get the "W".

      The Sunday matches went well for us and we compiled a record of 8-1. The summary of the results would be: Reilly won the C flight in singles, Blitz and Pedro won the B flight in doubles (shout out to Blitz who has been working hard on his volleys for the last few weeks - and for beating Reilly and Kaue in the finals. It's always kind of weird to play your teammates in a tournament, but it does lead to some funny moments.  Both doubles teams got one of our coaches with each of them and it was pretty intense.  Reilly and Kaue tried to get into the other guy's heads when their was a break. Reilly started doing push-ups on the court and Kaue knocked out some Burpee's. The crowd laughed and thought it was pretty funny. They obviously weren't used to how hard we like to compete.

      I got lucky enough to win the B draw in singles. We definitely had some good matches and improved a lot. We got back to Wilmington around 9 p.m. Sunday night just in time to get some rest and catch up on some assignments that we missed. It'd been a great weekend and it will just get better! I look forward to my next blog about the USTA/ITA Regional Championship in Cary, NC!

      Go Seahawks!


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