Men’s Tennis: Ahead Of Schedule
JACKSONVILLE– Head coach Steve Bailey knew his Men’s Tennis team would be good one day–just not this fast.
To be fair, the other coaches in the Ohio Valley Conference felt the same way when they voted Jacksonville State to finish fifth. And, they had good reason to considering JSU starts five newcomers and four freshmen.
Even so, the Gamecocks rode behind its young lineup to an OVC Regular-Season Championship.
“A lot of times, especially with a young team, you don’t think about winning or losing,” Bailey said. “You just think about teaching them how to play. That’s what we were worrying about early, just teaching them and getting experience.
“But, we started winning and that took care of itself. Early success was a surprise.”
Bailey wasn’t the only one surprised. The Gamecocks (15-7, 8-1 OVC) were often underestimated by opposing teams because of their freshmen starters, Jaryd Reese, Dylan Gee, Jeff Wendler-Filho and Mathias Chaim. Their lone sophomore starter is Pedro Wagner, a transfer from Central Florida. By the time the regular season ended, they had the attention of everyone in the conference. That’s when the other coaches saw fit to award him with the OVC’s Men’s Tennis Coach of the Year award for the fourth time in his career.
“It’s always a great honor,” Bailey said. “If you get it, it’s not just you. It’s your players, your staff. Everybody is a trophy. We all share. One person can’t do it all. I’m all about the players.”
Two of his players followed him to the postseason awards. Wendler-Filho and Gee who combined for a 15-2 record against the OVC, were named to the All-OVC Second Team.
Wendler-Filho led the OVC with 17 wins, including a 13-1 record at No. 4 singles. He finished 8-1 in the OVC, his only loss coming from playing No. 3 against Eastern Illinois.
But, individual success is not what motivates the Sao Paulo, Brazil-native. Playing at JSU is the first time he has gotten to experience playing on a team.
“I didn’t play in my high school,” he said. “I just played by myself. It’s the first time I’ve played with a team. But, it’s pretty fun. It’s so much better when you’re trusting someone.”
“Even when you’re playing as a team, you have to play by yourself in a singles match. But, you look to your friends telling you to keep fighting. It can motivate you, even when you’re almost defeated.”
Playing on a team is a new experience for Gee as well. But, that didn’t stop the London, England native from finishing 15-4 overall in singles with nine wins at the No. 3 spot. He also combined for a 5-0 mark at No. 4 and 5 singles. He has won his last six matches against OVC opponents, a streak he hopes to continue in this weekend’s OVC Tournament.
“It’s been really exciting,” Gee said. “I think we’ve got a really good shot because we’re the No. 1 seed and we’re playing teams that we’ve beaten preciously. I think we’ve got a good shot.”
That No. 1 seed earned the Gamecocks a first round bye. No. 4 seed Morehead State defeated No. 4 seed Southern Illinois-Edwardsville Thursday to advance to the semifinals where they will meet JSU. The Gamecocks are set to face off with the Eagles today at 10 a.m.
Playing on such a grand stage with so much at stake would frighten most teams as young as JSU. However, this Gamecock team has a bond that helps them erase any doubt.
“Friends and stuff can help you boost your game,” Gee said. “It also helps give you more confidence when playing. We had no idea how this was going to all come together. We were just all put together and it’s worked really well. We’re all good friends.”
Added Bailey: “I’ve been really proud of the team, especially a young team learning how to play. They’ve done a great job. I’m real proud of them.”