May 8, 2014
Hello Crimson Tide Tennis Fans!
How quickly a season can start and finish much like an amusement park ride. Well this rollercoaster was a good one that began back on August 21, 2013, with the first day of fall semester classes and finished up with final exams last week. Our results on the court and in the classroom were solid as we recorded a top-30 team ranking and a team grade point average that ranked highest among all Alabama men's teams. We received additional honors as awarded by the SEC and had a player and doubles team qualify for the NCAA Individual Championships. Now there's just one thing missing from the mix of accomplishments ... a trip to the NCAA team portion, which begins this weekend at 16 regional sites. We unfortunately fell victim to a two-year old rule that states teams must have a high enough team ranking and a .500 record to qualify for the postseason. The Tide had one of those covered with our ranking but fell a victory short when we lost to South Carolina at the SEC Championships. So, be that as it may, the would haves, could haves and should haves did their best to interfere with our lives for about a week, and in the end, the rules are rules and the outcome is clear ... we needed to win our last match. As we spoke about in our final team meeting, this year's reality will motivate us to start next season (NOW!) and as former Dallas Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith said, "All men are created equal; some just work harder in the off-season."
Following the SEC Championships, the conference announced its All-SEC and All-Freshman teams and the Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Alabama was represented in three categories with senior co-captain Daniil Proskura earning All-SEC honors as well as repeating as the Scholar-Athlete of the Year (an award he won in 2013). Becker O'Shaughnessey joined Daniil as an All-SEC selection and freshman Nikko Madregallejo was voted to the All-SEC Freshman team. It is one thing when your team thinks you deserve the honor, but another when your peers do too.
The Tide also gave out team awards as voted on by the players. The Most Improved Player for the year was junior co-captain Stuart Kenyon who also won this award last season. A former player who won the MIP twice in his career said that, "You must be pretty bad if you win the most improved twice," but as I told him, the point is to keep improving as this process never stops. Stu followed up his sophomore year with noticeable improvement and a big jump in the singles lineup. Just two seasons ago he was fighting for a spot at the No. 6 position and this year catapulted himself to the No. 3-4 slot. While this was new territory for Stu he faced the stronger opposition head on and came up with some noteworthy performances and memorable clinches vs. Kentucky and LSU. He also took on a new role as captain, which like his playing position, was unfamiliar ground for him. Always willing to listen and lend a hand, Stu learned that it takes a lot of patience, flexibility, strength and character to lead a team ... or even to play with the coach's three kids each time they visited the courts. Great job Uncle Stuart.
Our Tenacity Award (formerly known as the 110 % award) went to junior Andrew Goodwin. Known for his grit, determination and never-say-die attitude, Andrew made a huge impact to the team this season providing energy and incredible work ethic on a daily basis whether on-court, in the weight room or behind the ping-pong table. He was the fuel that lit our fire regardless of the situation. I'm reminded of a quote by John Wooden that states, "A true test of a man's character is what he does when nobody is watching." Well, Goodie had an indelible influence on this program, and I can't wait to see what his senior season will be like for the Crimson Tide.
The final award was MVP. While it wasn't too hard to figure out who would win this trophy (which actually was an engraved Alabama watch), I felt like this honor was not necessarily for what the MVP did this season but rather for his career. Daniil sought out excellence in everything that he did, and in doing so, set a new standard for the program. His year got off to a great start last summer, in the `off-season', when he found himself staring at four rounds of qualifying in Godfrey, Illinois. The USTA Pro Circuit is a grind, and the weather in the Midwest at the end of July is hot, sticky and relentless. Be that as it may, the hard-headed and determined Estonian won four rounds to reach the main draw of this Futures event and then picked up the first ATP point of his career beating a seed in the first round. Enough said. That mindset led to two more weeks of qualifying with the same result - main draw and main draw ... and oh by the way, a doubles title with teammate Becker O'Shaughnessey at the Decatur Futures where their names are now engraved on the champions board with Alabama coach Ryler DeHeart, who twice won the singles title there. At some point, we all figure it out at different stages of our lives, whether an infant maturing to toddler status or teenager to young adult, or in this case, a player becoming a leader. Daniil set the bar high and leaves behind some big shoes to fill at many levels.
Following the team awards, the coaching staff met with each player to review their season and talk about goals they achieved, needed areas of improvement, team dynamics and leadership, academic performance and what the summer had in store for them. Each player provided great detail and specific examples of what they achieved this season, what they had in mind for next year and steps they will take in order to contribute to the program.
Daniil and Becker postponed their meetings because their season continues May 21-26, in Athens, Georgia. It marks the second year in a row that the Tide has been represented in both the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships in the same season. Additionally, due to their top-eight seeding, the duo earns All-America status from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. This marks the second-straight year an Alabama doubles team has been named All-America, as Jarryd Botha and David Vieyra achieved the feat a year ago. Prior to last season, it had been 20 years since there was a doubles All-American and 13 years since there was both a singles player and doubles team representing the Tide in each championship.
So as Ryler and I tidied up the locker room a bit and erased our ultimate frisbee scores from the fitness board, a lot can be said about our season this year. We were very competitive, and due to this ever-developing mindset, we came away with many notable outcomes resulting in both wins and losses. There's a lot to be excited about for next season, but before then, I invite everyone to Athens to cheer on Daniil and Becker. As the saying goes, "It's not how you start, it's how you finish," and "If a man's starts to weaken, that's a shame, for Bama's pluck and grit have writ her name in crimson flame ... your Dixie's tennis pride, Crimson Tide, Roll Tide, Roll Tide!"
See you soon,