Nov. 1, 2007
Head Coach Chuck Kriese does not like the term rebuilding or reloading.
After losing the top three starters from last year’s team due to graduation, he declares that he is not using this as an excuse. Instead he is using this situation as a chance to motivate his team and encourage the growth of his young team as he prepares for the 2008 season.
Kriese is entering his 33rd season at Clemson in 2008 and during this time he has a career record of 670-399. Kriese is in the top 10 as far as winningest active division I coaches. He returns three starters and five letterwinners from last year’s team that finished with a 31-10 record overall and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. He has led the Tigers to 130 wins in the last five years for an average of 26 victories per season. Kriese has shown that he can be a winner in four different decades at Clemson. Only former Clemson baseball coach Bill Wilhelm has served Clemson longer as a head coach.
With so many seasons as the head coach at Clemson, Kriese is still just as optimistic and eager to start another season. “To be successful, you need four basic ingredients, said Kriese.
“First, you need senior leadership. Well, this year we can’t do much about the senior leadership because we simply don’t have any seniors on the roster. We have five freshman, four sophomores and one junior on the roster. I tell our players that you might be young in school, but you are veterans in tennis.
“They have played a lot of tennis during their junior careers. We tried to give the freshmen as much experience this fall in different tournaments. We want them to understand the level and intensity of college tennis-what it takes to be successful.
“Next, we have good hungry and eager players. I feel they understand the level and intensity of college tennis. They are committed and willing to do the work. I’ve scheduled several doubleheaders this spring to give them the reps. Tennis is a sport where association breeds assimilation.
“In another words, you become who you hang out with and you play to the level of the competition. I feel as though we have one of the best schedules in the country. We already have a tough schedule built in with the level the ACC has reached today. The southeastern part of the United States is the toughest region. Our freshmen are pushing our younger players and that’s so important in our program this year.
“Our doubles play is coming around and will be a work in progress in the preseason. Our doubles team of Carlos Alvarez and Rok Bizjak from last year has set the standard. They know the level and what it takes to be successful. They can be a big influence on the other doubles teams as we develop our lineup.
“And fourth, the team chemistry is there. We have the closest team we have ever had since I have been at Clemson. They are like brothers. They work together and train together and most importantly, they do well in school together. We are well on our way in becoming a team that consists of these four concepts.
” I have never believed in rebuilding. I don’t like that term. We have a level we have to reach and we will play to that level. It’s my job to set the bar high, and we will work hard to reach that level. We have the schedule that we need and the attitude from the coaches and players to get there.
Ike Belk is back for his junior year and will be one of the leaders of the 2008 Tigers. Last season, he finished with a 22-3 record overall, the best winning percentage on the Clemson team in many years, and a 5-6 mark in doubles.
“I am very proud of Ike Belk as anyone I have ever coached,” said Kriese. “This season, he is our team captain and is competing for one of the top three positions. He is that Epitome of what Clemson tennis is all about. He has a great work ethic and addresses what he needs to work on to improve his game. Ike has a great attitude and a quality human being. I am as proud of him as anybody I have ever coached, and I am excited to see him develop.
Carlos Alvarez started at number five singles last year as a freshman and had a 36-10 record overall and a 23-15 mark in doubles play. He led the team in overall singles wins and was fourth in doubles victories. “Carlos was a consistent winner last year. He knows he needs to step up after his success as the number-five position. He has a knack for competition and he has made great adjustments in his game. “
Rok Bizjak is another sophomore who played at number four singles for the Tigers last season. He finished the year with a 33-6 mark overall, including a 30-5 record in dual meets. Bizjak had a 20-10 record in doubles and teamed with Alvarez for a 15-8 record as a doubles team. “He was our rock last year. He was very consistent player and he knows how to win.”
Junior Kevin Fleck was 19-10 last season and played at number six singles. He finished 21-14 in doubles. “Fleck came back in great condition for this year. His game really stepped up in the fall, and he will compete for the top three or four positions.”
Gera Boryachinskiy is a sophomore who was 7-3 in singles and 3-5 in doubles last year. The native of Baltimore, a city that has been good to Clemson tennis in recent years, looks to compete for a starting spot this year. “Gera can compete with our top guys. He is a great athlete and is a smart, good-looking tennis player that has good athleticism.”
Clemson has five freshmen on the roster and all could be factors before the season is over. Included in this group are Tino Elgner, Derek DiFazio, Kevin Galloway, Robert Pietrucha, and Eddy Wang.
“DiFazio made some statements with his play in the fall that he wants to play in the top portion of the lineup. He is a competitor and has a great work ethic. He has a lot to build on and is a great athlete. He has a variety of big shots, but yet he plays with a lot of finesse. He was ranked number one in the East in the junior ranks.
“Galloway has stepped up this fall and was ranked number one in the south in juniors. He has great speed and is very crafty on the court. He has a terrific all-around game. He just needs more reps and this will come with time.”
“Pietrucha is a tough guy and has a great ground game. He has an outstanding attitude and loves to train and be on the court. He is a tough competitor.
“I love having Eddy Wang on our team. He is a smart player and is very coachable. He just needs more experience.
“Elgner is a red shirt freshman. He is the best athlete and fastest player on our team. He has great ground strokes and again just needs more experience.
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