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Depth And Leadership The Keys For Clemson Men’s Tennis

Feb. 23, 2000

Clemson Head Coach Chuck Kriese compares his 2000 men’s tennis team to a volcano waiting to erupt. With the nucleus returning from a team that finished 21-12 last season, he has every reason to be optimistic.

Kriese is in his 25th year at the helm of the Tiger program, and over his career at Clemson he has compiled a staggering 503-290 record. In 1995, he became the ACC’s winningest coach on a total victories basis. He has won 10 regular season ACC titles, 10 conference tournament titles, has been ACC Coach-of-the-Year six times, and National Coach-of-the-Year twice.

“To be successful in college tennis you must have depth, excellent doubles, and good internal team leadership. I really feel like this year’s team has all three of these elements,” said Kriese.

Kriese has built this year’s team with extreme patience and precision. “In order to persevere through hard times you need to have patience. We have not just thrown this team together in one year. After we won the conference in 1997, we brought in four very talented freshmen. In 1998 we red-shirted two seniors so those four freshmen could play. We finished the 1998 season 11-18, but we did make it do the NCAA Tournament. In 1999, we finished tied for second in the conference, made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament, and were ranked 30th in the country.

“Of course we want to win the conference every year, but I feel like it has been a logical progression for us. This year, those four guys who were freshmen in 1998 now have two years experience they have not missed a beat.”

The four players Kriese is referring to are Josh Goffi, Darren Knight, Brad Emendorfer, and Joey Hopke. “When I recruited those guys I knew that I was getting four great athletes and four great tennis players. All four of them are sincere people who are definitely striving towards their goals on and off the court.”

Last season, Goffi won the conference at number-three singles. He finished with a 31-19 record in singles and went 27-13 in doubles. Both of these win totals led the team. Knight red-shirted last season, but in limited action finished with a 12-3 singles record.

Earlier this fall, the double’s team of Goffi and Knight set the tone for the upcoming season by finishing second at the National Intercollegiate Clay Court Tennis Championships in Pikesville, MD. The Clemson duo began the tournament unseeded, but with their performance jumped to a top-five team in the country.

“What Josh and Darren did at the Clay Court Championships was very impressive. We have needed players to step up for us and that is what they did. They have really made a big jump. They have climbed the mountain and it is now time for the other guys to follow. When they returned from the tournament Brad Emendorfer gathered the team together and told the rest of the guys that if Josh and Darren could step it up, then everyone else needed to step up as well.”

In 1999, Emendorfer finished 23-20 in singles, while Hopke was 12-8. “Joey and Brad have each made a big run. They have improved tremendously from last year and I really look for them to have good seasons.”

Kriese is also counting on his two seniors, Luis Garcia and Tomasz Boniecki, to contribute early and often.

Garcia finished 28-17 in singles last season and according to Kriese, “is capable of playing number-one singles this year.”

Last year, Boniecki won the conference at number-four singles, but has been slowed this fall by a knee injury. “Last year, I kept Tomasz on the back burner in order to develop him slowly. With his injury this fall, his position on the team is still a little uncertain. If his knee responds well then he is capable of being as good as anybody on the team.”

For leadership on this year’s team, Kriese will look to junior Sandon Barth. “Sandon started off as a walk-on and now he has become the leader of this team. What he does from a leadership standpoint is very important. Having him on the team is almost like having another coach. I would count on him with my life and he is the glue to our team.”

Colin Atkinson and Marko Gojanovic are now sophomores, and Kriese hopes these two will be able to provide needed depth to the team. As a freshman, Gojanovic was tied for third on the team with 24 doubles wins. “Marko is a tough kid. He has a great game, but he just needs to show it on a more consistent basis. Colin has great hands and a great mind. He just needs to get stronger. I am really counting on he and Marko to help the team.”

Red-shirt freshmen Jimmy Poole, Eric Cohn, and Tyler Manring are the players that Kriese feels have improved the most from last season. “I red-shirted those guys last year because they needed another year to grow and work on their game. All three have great athletic ability and I look for them to really catch on and do well.”

The four newcomers to the 2000 team are Lee Porter, Damiisa Robinson, Micah Thompson, and Kevin Gottfried. “Lee and Damiisa are both excellent athletes who are becoming excellent tennis players. They are growing like weeds right before my eyes and they are getting better every day. Their work habits are so good simply because of the things they have been taught by the older guys. Kevin Gottfried and Micah Thompson each enrolled at Clemson this spring so they have a great deal of catching up to do. I really expect them to catch on quickly, though, and contribute early to our team.”

In 2000, the Tigers will face a very difficult schedule, but Kriese would not have it any other way. “This year for our spring trip we are going to the West Coast and play six top 20 teams. In order to be the best, you have to play the best. That is the approach I have taken, and this year our schedule is loaded.”

For now, Kriese’s biggest challenge of the upcoming season is getting his players to believe in themselves. “Once these guys experience success then hopefully it will catch on. The bar was set for Clemson tennis a long time ago, and we have a very high expectation level. From 1978-1990 we lost only two ACC matches. We need to get back to that kind of dominance. Everything is in place for this team, but now they just need to realize their potential. I really get excited when I see players get better in front of my eyes.”

With the spring season approaching, it is easy to see why Kriese is so enthusiastic. He has all the ingredients for a special season in 2000, but in the end he knows that it will be up to his players to ensure that Clemson returns to the forefront of college tennis.