After last season ended in the NCAA Regional Semifinals with a close loss to then-Peach Belt Conference foe Armstrong State University, the GC men’s tennis team has its sights set on earning another NCAA Tournament bid in 2018.
“Our goal is always to compete for the Peach Belt Championship,” said head coach Steve Barsby. “We know if we’re in the top part of the Peach Belt, we’re going to compete on the national level, so that’s our goal every year.”
The Bobcats enter the 2018 season with a relatively young team, as they only have one senior on this year’s roster and boast four new players. Because of this, Barsby said his team will look to their two oldest players for leadership.
“We’ll probably lean on our two eldest guys,Pedro Ecenarro and Jannik Kumbier, th
e most,” Barsby said. “If they play well, we’ll do well as a team. If those two guys struggle a little bit, we’ll struggle as a team. It’s all pretty much going to run through those guys.”
Kumbier, who redshirted last year after missing most of the season with a wrist injury, said he is excited to get back on the court this season, and he believes GC needs to get off to a fast start this season to begin building confidence and reach their goal of making it to nationals.
“I think we have to get rolling,” Kumbier said. “I always feel like we start a little slow and pick it up at the end, so we need to be focused in the beginning of the season and take it match by match.”
For Ecenarro, who was the PBC’s Freshman of the Year in 2014-2015, the focus will be on mental toughness and hard work to get GC back into the NCAA Tournament this season.
“We’ve got four new kids on the team who haven’t played college tennis yet, so they probably don’t know what’s coming,” Ecenarro said. “You can tell them, but they’re not going to know until they actually play a match. So it’s just hard work and mental toughness, which is just putting all the excuses aside no matter what happens.”
As leaders for the Bobcats, both Kumbier and Ecenarro praised each other’s ability to lead by example during practice to show younger players what the intensity of college tennis is like.
“I don’t think either of us is a really good talker,” Ecenarro said. “A lot of sports culture in the U.S. is a lot of talking and speeches before games, but I’m not really into that. We prefer to lead by doing things and having new guys see how we practice and do everything, because that’s a better way for them to realize that you’ve got to take it seriously.”
This season, Kumbier and Ecenarro will lead the young Bobcats, who are ranked No. 5 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s preseason Southeast Regional Rankings, against a schedule that features matches against seven opponents ranked in the ITA’s preseason Top 25 poll.
In the poll, the PBC boasts four teams ranked in the ITA’s national preseason poll and seven teams ranked in the ITA’s Southeast Regional Rankings.
“The conference is really tough just like every year,” Ecenarro said. “We know that teams are good. They have really good coaches that recruit really good players from all over the world, so it’s always hard.”
But despite having such a rigorous regular season schedule, Barsby said this is something that he and the Bobcats are used to, and they are embracing the challenge that the season will bring.
“The thing is there’s nothing we have to change,” Barsby said of the always-tough PBC. “At the NCAA’s, it’s always been six or seven PBC teams at the regional tournament at the end of the year and a couple of conference champions from in our region, so the level has stayed really high. And then we added two or three other teams that are top 10 in the country outside our conference, but we like it. It’s fun.”