One of the most outstanding attributes about the 1999 Clemson men’s tennis team is its passion for the game and its patience for corresponding awards.
After winning the ACC Tournament in the spring of 1997, Head Coach Chuck Kriese started a youth movement and brought in four talented freshmen and red-shirted two upperclassmen to prepare for the not to distant future-the spring of 1999. Kriese, who is in his 24th season as head mentor, describes this move as deferred gratification.
“The thing I always preached to my players is ‘deferred gratification’,” said Kriese who has a 482-278 record at Clemson. There were only 12 members of the NCAA Division I 500-victory club entering the spring.
“We started building the 1999 team several months ago after we won the ACC Championship. I realized when we won the ACC, we could have a decent year in 1998, or we could red-shirt two veteran players and play the freshmen in 1998 and build for the future. I had a good recruiting class and I felt it was one of the best recruiting classes I ever had because of their character.
” I had to make a decision, either to put the freshmen on the back burner or use the eligibility of some players who have not quite developed yet. I decided to put the emphasis on having an outstanding year later and Luis Garcia and Ryan Bauer are the two players I red-shirted. Both of them had tremendous potential, but needed to improve.”
Garcia had a 12-12 record in singles in 1997, while Bauer was 23-18. “Garcia and Bauer would not have been as competitive or been able to play at their highest level without another year of practice and development. If I hadn’t red-shirted those guys, I would have had only two freshmen starting last year. Garcia would have been a senior in 1999, and Bauer would have already graduated and they probably would not have had enough time to reach their potential. Now we have four experienced sophomores and seasoned upperclassmen.”
Clemson finished the 1998 season with an 11-18 record overall and a 3-5 mark in the ACC. Clemson also advanced to the NCAA regionals. More importantly, Clemson returns five of the six starters and six letterwinners plus the experienced Bauer and Garcia. Thus, Clemson has seven returning starters on its 1999 roster.
“We suffered through last year and had 11 wins, but we improved steadily and went to the NCAA Tournament. We basically took the older guys out of the formula, and our lineup was composed of four freshmen, one sophomore, and one senior. In the earlier part of the year we got hammered. Making the NCAA tournament with that young team was a tremendous accomplishment. With us going to the NCAA Tournament, we saved 18 months down the road because of the experience and the confidence our young people received.
“The work that we did last year was not for immediate gratification. Usually the training you do pays off 18 months later. The work ethic and the habits our players develop while at Clemson will determine their habits and work ethic for the next 40 years. I also hope they learn passion to commit totally and patience to wait for the fruits of the labor.”
Leading the returnees is junior Pablo Bellagama. Bellagamba compiled a 13-21 record overall, playing predominantly at number-two singles. He also had an impressive 20-17 record in doubles. The next four positions were occupied by freshmen Josh Goffi, Brad Emendorfer, Darren Knight and Joey Hopke.
“This team has been built on a strong foundation. The fruit of the labor has already started showing signs. We had a good fall, and have shown much more maturity. Garcia will definitely have a good career. Bauer’s year off allowed him the needed adjustments in his game, and he has come around as well. “The four freshman of 1998, Goffi, Emendorfer, Knight, and Hopke, are now playing like juniors rather than sophomores. They will be the nucleus of our team the next few seasons. They have made tremendous strides.
“Pablo is healthy for the first time after othoscopic surgery on this elbow and shoulder. He has played really well. Sandon Barth has improved and will add the leadership. “
Josh Goffi had a 16-19 record in singles play last year, and saw much of his action at number-three singles. He also finished 16-16 in doubles play. Brad Emendorfer had a 21-16 record, as he played most of his matches at number-four singles. He finished the season with a 18-16 mark in doubles. Darren Knight had a team-leading 25-19 record and played at number-five singles and posted a very impressive 20-18 mark in doubles competition. Joey Hopke was also another 20-match winner, as he compiled a 20-19 record overall and was Clemson’s number-six starter.
” I am very impressed with Luis Garcia. He has performed really well in the fall tournaments. Ryan Bauer has the competitive attitude of a champion Emendorfer is a winner through and though. Josh Goffi is like a 10-cylinder engine. If we could get him to fire all 10 cylinders at once, he would be very impressive. This is the first year Pablo Bellagama will play injury free. At times, he shows signs of playing well and he needs to maintain that level. He is a natural-born player.
“Physically, Darren Knight is a good specimen of an athlete. He needs to get more matches behind him. Hopke played well last year and Goffi is a tremendous role player and he could step up when his ball striking comes around.
“Sandon Barth is worth his weight in gold. He has tremendous physical attributes and with every match he gets better and better. He is a tremendous athlete.”
Barth, a junior, finished the season with a 5-9 record overall in singles and a 14-11 mark in doubles.
The newcomers include Tomasz Boniecki, Colin Atkinson, Marko Gojanovic, and Marico Torres.
“Boniecki is a transfer from Flagler. He brings with him a tremendous work ethic. He is a good player and we are bringing him along slowly. Marko Gojanovic is a pleasant surprise, and he competes well and locks into the match. He has showed a lot of maturity and is a good doubles player.” Boniecki was a two-time All-American at Flagler College.
“Atkinson is really improving and maturing physically. Marico Torres has great potential and will work hard to improve.
“There is no limit in sight for the growth and the potential for this team. The work ethic is excellent, the aspiration and dreams of this team are excellent, and the leadership is sound. We need a couple of guys to break away from the pack and show they can compete at high levels.
“I’ve built a lot of teams and every team has different ingredients, but the things you look for include good balance, good leadership, good doubles play, depth, and clutch players. We have those ingredients, but we need someone to break out of the pack and become a “go to” type of player. Our doubles teams are experienced, and I think we will have four excellent doubles teams to work with this season.
“They waste no time in practice, and they know what they are after. We are on course and they are in training themselves for life-developing their base character for greater things down the road. They believe in the things we do, and I have a “coaching high” everyday I am out there with those guys. This is a championship team in the making. What level of championship? We will have to see, I do know they are doing what it takes to become champions.”
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