For the first time in this series, I can solidly and unfalteringly say that the Racket Jackets are a team on the rise.
ATLANTA, GEORGIA – This summer, as we did last summer, Yellow Jacket Roundup will be taking a ten week hiatus as the summer sports break splits spring from fall and the academic year begins anew. Pretty much the same premise, expect this year, we have a better, and more alliterative name. Men’s tennis is an interesting team to take a look at. I’d still argue last year was a Chris Eubanks-induced hangover. It’s hard to build again after losing one of the best athletes to ever play for the program, if not the best. And now it’s time to look at how they faired laying the next brick in their journey back towards the nation’s upper echelon.
When We Last Saw ‘Em:
Much like golf, it’s rather easy to take the very literal answer to this question at face value. Junior Carlos Divar headed to Jacksonville to compete in the NCAA Singles National Championship. He promptly lost in the first round to a face from a familiar team, Columbia’s Victor Pham, 6-2, 6-2. Next up is Cole Gromley in the annual Atlanta BB&T Open at Atlantic Station as the collegiate wildcard.
The spring slate started largely as a bunch of unknown for the Jackets. The first thing in the new year was the signing of Pablo Schelcher to immediately join the team, rounding out the roster. Injuries had ravaged the fall squad, resulting in oft-inconsistent play. All three teams the Jackets hosted in their annual MLK Invitational were ranked in the top 20, so they may not have come out with a tournament win, but Carlos Divar defeated the number two player in the country, and the je ne sais quoi that they didn’t have playing the same teams in the same tournament the year before.
It took a while for things to gel, though, nailing The Citadel, Furman, Kennesaw State, and Georgia State as expected, but falling 4-1 and 4-0 to Auburn and the school in Athens. Tech turned around and barely lost 4-3 to another SEC foe, South Carolina, and opened up conference play with a 6-1 wrangling by Miami.
However, another glimmer of excellence came with a heartbreaking home loss to a ranked Tennessee team, 4-2. In that match, the Racket Jackets took the doubles point and Gromley rallied to take his singles court. But then, the Volunteers were able to take three points straight, but Divar was winning 4-6, 7-6 (9), 6-5 when Andrew Li lost an a squeaker of a match, 4-6, 7-6 (9), 7-5. It was a rough end to a promising match, but Tech would follow up the loss to no. 26 Tennessee with a victory over no. 21 Florida State at Ken Byers. They then lost a 4-3 match to Clemson, before defeating no. 7 North Carolina at home by the same margin, despite dropping the doubles point. To hammer the point home, they added a win against no. 44 Duke later in the same weekend. Those three weeks, the Jackets were playing their best tennis in probably two years.
Tech inched into the top 50 after that, though they promptly would fall to no. 5 Virginia and VPISU on the road, and no. 3 Wake Forest at home. Three late losses aren’t the best for ACC or NCAA tournament seeding, but Tech would bounce back a little with a defeat of another ranked team, no. 21 North Carolina State, as well as an unranked Louisville team on Senior Day. It was not a good year for public schools from the state of North Carolina to play Georgia Tech at Ken Byers Tennis Complex, and Tech’s top duo were rewarded with Divar sharing ACC Co-Player of the Week, while he shared the ACC Doubles Team of the Week with his partner in crime Phillip Gresk.
Tech would go 1-1 in their final two games, against Notre Dame and Boston College.
Ultimately, it was a season that ended too early for the Jackets. The team finished 11-11, after a 4-3 loss in the second round of the ACC tournament to a Louisville team they had beaten earlier in the year. Their .500 record would’ve allowed them to play in the big dance, but another win would’ve been nice. The Louisville team they lost to probably popped their bubble hopes. They had a lot of solid wins, like Duke, North Carolina State, North Carolina, and Florida State. But there ultimately weren’t enough to offset the losses.
Divar netted himself a first team all-ACC selection and a berth in the NCAAs. And, with that sudden end, the Jackets find themselves looking into their 2019 fall slate.
Highest ranked recruiting class in Georgia Tech Men’s Tennis history, finishing sixth:
Andres Martin (no. 9 HEAD Ranking, no. 26 UTSA National (no. 2 Georgia) Boys U18 Singles, blue chip)
Brandon McKinney (no. 30 HEAD Ranking, no. 119 UTSA National (no. 5 Georgia) Boys U18 Singles, five star)
Marcus McDaniel (no. 7 HEAD Ranking, no. 5 UTSA National (no. 1 California) Boys U18 Singles, blue chip)
Keshav Chopra (no. 11 HEAD Ranking, no. 40 UTSA National (no. 3 Georgia) Boys U18 Singles, blue chip)
Various and Sundry:
- Tech gets one more season of First Team All-ACC player Carlos Divar. Like the women’s team Kenya Jones, a veteran leadership presence, especially one with postseason tournament experience, between his singles bracket appearances and the 2017 team berth under his belt, is critical.
- Two blue chips and a five star are on their way to reinforce a team that loses two strong four year players, including the number one player from the state of California and two of the top three from Georgia, according to the UTSA National U18 Singles rankings. This is good.
- No. 6 recruiting class in the country.
- Notable wins: top ten North Carolina, top 25 North Carolina State and Florida State. It was a bad year to come to Ken Byers Tennis Complex with the 21st ranking.
- Tech should have made the postseason. And I am highly confident they will this year.
- Kenny Thorne is still coaching Chris Eubanks, and he’s practicing in and around the team. The guy is a top-200 player worldwide, so this is good for the young guys who didn’t get to play with him to experience.
- Ken Byers Tennis Complex hosts some good tennis and it’s a beautiful venue indoors and out. Lots of weekend tennis to be played this spring. Check it out.
Future Schedule Highlights:
The exact schedule is unknown. The fall will be mostly invitationals and individual draws. The spring will be ACC and team play. And almost certainly a familiar MLK Tournament slate. I think it’s a really good thing that Tech gets to see the school in Athens twice each year, because those are usually good teams and Tech gets some solid experience. Hopefully the boys make noise in the ITA tournaments as well. Kenny Thorne has scheduled some strong SEC opponents to round out the non-con schedule from the typical mid- and low-major teams.
Buy: The Florida State win seemed almost inevitable, though, I’ll admit I thought it was going to hit against Tennessee. This team was already a team on the rise last year. And, when they put it together, on one great day, they played some inspired tennis against the Tar Heels. Adding more than they lose is a good step, too, and the very young roster all ages up a little bit and adds a couple more notches to their belts. Three well-regarded blue chippers join Divar, Gromley, Schelcher, Yun, and Gandolfo. Buy now. This team is on its way up. I can feel it.
June 10th – Track and Field June 17th – Men’s Golf June 24th – Women’s Tennis July 1st – Men’s Tennis
July 8th – Softball
July 15th – State of the Program
July 22nd – Women’s Basketball
July 29th – Cross Country
August 5th – Swimming and Diving
August 12th – Volleyball
If you have any insight you’d like to share on this, or any other program at Tech, leave a comment below. In our next edition, we head across the street for a look into our last spring sport, the softball team.