On Saturday November 7, our Youth Tennis League traveled to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World to witness the Collegiate Clay Court Invitational hosted by the Florida State University. It was a loooooong day for everyone which included watching matches in the morning at ESPN and playing matches in the evening at the Kiwi Tennis Club in Melbourne with a visit to Disney Springs in between. But even with the amount of time spent sharing a vehicle, our players will always remember the time we spent watching and playing tennis.
While attending the event at ESPN Coach Ken led the players from court to court gathering autographs from as many players as he could find, which wasn’t very hard because they were EVERYWHERE! You can see some of the autographs on the back of the shirts in the pictures.
Josie Kuhlman and Brianna Morgan of Florida, Yukako Noi of Florida State, Florida Gulf Coast, Clemson, Georgia, and others gave each of our players a little bit of their time and a signature to go home with. It was a truly memorable experience for us and, I’m sure, for the players, too. You’re not going to get this kind of attention at a professional tennis tournament!
But before we were ready to move onto our next destination, FSU Head Coach Dwayne Hultquist graciously accepted our invitation to speak to the group. So we all gathered around him while he spoke to the kids about being a part of the Team, doing your part to help the Team, and traveling with the Team to far away destinations like Hawaii. I just hope our players appreciated what it meant to have Coach Hultquist speak to the group. Because while he was speaking to us, the FSU Men’s team of Jose Garcia and Marco Nunez were embroiled in the heat of battle against the team from Louisville. Garcia and Nunez would go on to capture the title in the Gold division, taking out Pepperdine in the Final.
On the Women’s side, Josie Kuhlman and Brianna Morgan of the University of Florida would face Gators teammates Spencer Liang and Peggy Porter in the Final to also win the Gold division. They would destroy the Clemson team 8-4 in the semifinal.
Seeing a tennis match in person makes the game feel much more real. And watching college tennis players play their hearts out for the benefit of their team makes it all the more special. It is why All American Team Tennis places kids on teams, and why I believe tennis would be more popular if it were a Team sport at the professional level. Who knows… maybe one day.
Juniors Benjamin Lock and Marco Nunez
The Florida State Seminoles Men’s tennis team enter NCAA Tournament play on Friday, May 8, at 11am against the Troy Trojans at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga. The Seminoles received their 13th consecutive bid to the tournament thanks to finishing with a 19-10 record that would put them at #33 in the Nation. The Seminoles are a fairly young team, having only one senior on the roster, but thanks to the steady singles play of juniors Benjamin Lock and Michael Rinaldi, both nationally-ranked players at #44 and #109, respectively, Florida State would navigate the regular season for a shot in the playoffs.
Troy will be a test for Florida State, having finished their season at #53 (25-6) but the Seminoles have seen pretty stiff competition in the ACC this season with wins over Louisville and NC State. The Trojans, however, are in the Championship for only the second time in school history thanks to a 17-win improvement over last season. Troy put 5 players on the All-Sun Belt teams, including a couple of first team selections, Head Coach Scott Kidd would receive Coach of the Year.
These two teams faced each other in January with the ‘Noles coming out on top, 4-0. But the Trojans would finish the season on a 5-game win streak, including becoming Sun Belt Conference Champions. “Troy is a great team and Scott (Kidd) has done a great job there building that program,” said Head Coach Dwayne Hultquist. “They played a bunch of SEC teams tight and we know we’ll have to be ready for them.” Of course, every coach must show some respect to their opponent, but we all know the outcome of this one. Or do we?
The Seminoles are 3-3 in postseason play in Athens dating back to 1996. They are 13-17 all time in the NCAA Tournament and are looking for their first, first-round win since 2012. Last season, in the opening round, they would fall to South Florida. So a berth in the tournament is no guarantee of a victory… especially when you consider the Seminoles finished the regular season on a 3-game losing streak to enter the conference championship. The Seminoles would fall to #6 Duke, #4 Virginia, and #14 Virginia Tech; most recently losing to Virginia, again, in the quarterfinals of the ACC Championship.
Do the Seminoles have what it takes to rebound from these recent losses? Will the added time to recover be a boost or a burden to Florida State? Can the Trojans continue their end-of-season momentum into the NCAA Championship? Can the #13-ranked doubles team of Benjamin Lock and Marco Nunez earn three points for their team? Will senior Cristian Gonzalez Mendez end his career on a high note? Will freshman Terrell Whitehurst continue to contribute to the team in singles? We’ll find out, Friday morning, 11am, streaming on the Georgia Bulldogs network.