Nov. 20, 2008
Total development of the player is what first-year Head Coach Chuck McCuen is stressing to the 2009 Tigers.
“We want to become a team that will help and encourage each other and grow and become the best that we can be,” said McCuen, who served as an assistant coach at Clemson the previous seven years under 33-year Head Coach Chuck Kriese.
When asked about the keys to the season, McCuen emphasized consistency in doing the right things. “One of the most important keys to this season and in program development is rituals. What I mean by that is being consistent in our philosophy and not deviating. We want to build unity.
“For example, we eat together as a team once a week. We embrace the mental aspects by meeting with a sports psychologist on a consistent basis. This will help develop mental skills. We want to do as much as we can to build the team. We are going to be consistent in what we do every day and not deviate from that.
“I want them to earn people’s respect and not just inherit respect as they mature. Respect has to be earned. Whether you are a freshman or a senior, everyone has equal importance on our team.”
Aside from consistency, McCuen also believes in teamwork and total student-athlete development. “We want to be the best each and every day in everything that we do and say. Teamwork and team chemistry is another element it will take for us to be successful. Everyone has to give their best, whether they’re playing or supporting.
“Total player development and a well-rounded student-athlete is what we are working towards. We want our players to be well-rounded academically, socially, mentally, spiritually, and physically. You can’t be one-dimensional…you must have a balance in life. And we are here as coaches to develop our players and help them be the best they can be. We have the support of our administration to do just that with our facilities and opportunities.
“We have changed the way we approach practice. We do a non-traditional morning practice and we believe this will be an advantage in our development. We are practicing in the morning when our players are fresh and rested. Tennis is the first focus of the day. We are through by mid-morning. This allows plenty of time to concentrate on academics and a good recovery period in the evenings.”
When asked about the goals for this year, McCuen is quick to point out that they are very simple and not so structured. “We haven’t set goals this year about where we will finish or how many wins we’ll have…that will take care of itself. Again, our goal is to improve in every aspect of our student-athletes’ lives. We want to understand what it takes to improve. It’s about the process…learning how to do things correctly and improving every day.”
Clemson returns all six starters from the 2008 team that finished 15-20 overall. The Tigers also return eight letterwinners, another reason that should bring optimism to the Clemson camp.
Junior Carlos Alvarez played #1 singles for the Tigers last season. He finished 19-15 overall in singles and had a 16-14 mark in doubles.
“Carlos is our passion player, as he loves the game of tennis,” said McCuen. “He is fiery and is a very competitive player. He sparks the team and is a vocal leader. This is one of the reasons he is a co-captain.”
Junior Rok Bizjak was sidelined with an injury most of the spring and posted an 8-13 record in singles along with a 10-12 mark in doubles play. But the coaching staff is encouraged in the way he has worked his way back.
“I am very impressed with Rok,” added McCuen. “If he plays solid, he is like his name…a `rock.’ He is a very impressive player and has worked hard to improve his game.”
Junior Gera Boryachinskiy is another co-captain for the 2009 season. He posted a 19-21 record in singles and a 20-19 slate in doubles play last season.
“Gera is very stoic and analytical,” explained McCuen. “He is very detail-oriented and is a very intelligent player. Gera brings stability and a calmness to the team.”
Sophomore Derek DiFazio had an impressive freshman season, going 19-19 in singles and 16-23 in doubles.
“Derek is one of the most improved players on the team. He has trained hard and played in a lot of tournaments this past summer. He has a new mindset and is more open-minded to developing his game. He has stepped up as one of the leaders of this team.
Senior Kevin Fleck had a 20-22 record in singles and a 22-22 mark in doubles last season.
“Kevin brings a wealth of experience on and off the court. He is one of the most tenacious competitors we have on the team. He has done a great job taking past experiences and relating that with the present to help improve his game. He has really matured in his game, and we look forward to his senior season.”
Senior Ike Belk returns as a two-year starter. Last year, he was 17-23 in singles and 20-22 in doubles. He played most of his matches at the #4 slot.
“Ike brings tennis talent and a great personality to our team, and this helps the team stay light and energetic,” added McCuen. “He is a great motivator and he leads by example. Ike is simply a great team-morale builder.
Kevin Galloway finished the 2008 season with a 19-16 overall record and a 14-12 mark in dual competition. Galloway played most of his matches at #6 singles and posted a 10-6 ledger at that spot.
“Kevin is an individual who has transformed his game and attitude over the summer. He really worked hard during the offseason with coaches and played in a lot of different events. He worked on his weaknesses and mental skills. He has developed into a more complete player and person.”
Clemson has four freshmen on the team in Taylor Cohen, Wesley Moran, Robert Pietrucha, and Eddy Wang.
“Taylor may be small in stature, but he has one of the biggest hearts that I’ve ever seen,” admitted McCuen. “He is already a team leader by inspiring and encouraging us. He is also vying for playing time this spring. He has a strong work ethic and is very coachable.
“Wesley is a tall and smart competitor. He brings new energy to the team and does a great job on and off the court. He will battle for playing time this spring.”
Pietrucha red-shirted in 2008 after suffering knee injuries. “Robert is coming off double-knee surgery. He has worked hard in rehab and is really coming back strong. He’s a focused player. He will help the team with his inspiration and in the classroom, as he really has helped motivate the rest of the team.
“Eddy continues to improve his skills and has become a team player. He enhances our team by being a hard worker and possessing a great attitude.”
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