April 7, 2014
BY: ROBBY VERONESI
On the court, Tennessee tennis has had 14 players be selected as All-Americans. The Vols have reached the NCAA round of 16 five times, including once in the national championship and two more times in the quarterfinals and as if that wasn't enough, Tennessee has finished in the top-10 five times in the final ITA rankings.
Behind the scenes, the success culminates from another source. Rackets are being strung on a daily basis, while new equipment is ordered and prepared for practices and games alike; helping keep all the office files organized, while making sure the snack supply is properly filled with everything from protein bars to fruit chews. Then, there are the balls. Those bouncy, yellow, fuzzy tennis balls that seemingly number in the hundreds of hundreds, sprawled across the courts every single day, needing to be picked up repeatedly during practices.
The success speaks for itself, but head coach Sam Winterbotham himself knows it's not all from the players. Off the court is where two `instrumental' pieces scrap and put in just as much hard work as the athletes do on the court.
"Great managers are the ones who don't get the glory," said Winterbotham. "They do the day-to-day work that's often a grind. They don't always get thanked for the time and the effort and energy that they've put into it, but they are crucial to the success of the program because they make it run."
"They" refers to two men: Graham Carney and Andrew Hollowell. Two local, home-grown Tennesseans--Andrew from nearby Greeneville and Graham from Spring Hill in Middle Tennessee. One began right from the beginning of college in the fall of 2010, the other started a couple years later in 2012.
Both have willingly taken on the task of doing everything needed to make a strong tennis program run as smoothly as possible--and they've succeeded so far, according to their peers.
"That status of manager definitely was thrown out the window pretty early on," said senior Jarryd Chaplin. "Their commitment to the team is no different than that of the players. They're really special people."
Unlike a manager at the high school level, the position of collegiate manager is strenuous, like a full-time job on top of a busy college class schedule.
"Ninety-five percent of the job does not take place on the day of the match," said Hollowell. "It involves stringing rackets, doing laundry, making sure the facility looks nice, cleaning up the locker room. One of the big things we implemented my second year was filming the matches, and that's grown to be the biggest part of the job."
A lot of hard work, maybe, but with all the hard work comes a lot of fun. The two have become nationwide travelers over their time, spanning the country alternating trips with the team to places such as Hawaii, Seattle, San Francisco and almost every Southeastern Conference campus when March and April come around.
Take this year's Super Bowl Sunday. Wintry weather delayed the team's flight from Tulsa, Okla., to their connecting city of Dallas, Texas. Rather than fretting over potentially missing the biggest football game of the season, plans changed. Manager, trainer and sports information director alike grabbed dinner to-go, planted in front of the television and enjoyed each other's company while critiquing the latest set of Super Bowl commercials. What could have ended up as a disastrous travel nightmare turned into quite the road trip memory.
"It's always fun just to be around each other," said Stephanie Blanton, head athletic trainer for the tennis team. "We always try to get together and got to dinner or watch a game or something, just to hang out. I think that's really cool that we can do that. I would have never known them if it hadn't been for Tennessee tennis."
On the court, Tennessee may own one of the top doubles pairs in the nation, but the off-the-court pair of Carney and Hollowell has built up a strong friendship needed to succeed at any level, especially in such a potentially high-stress position.
"It's been a huge advantage for me coming in and having Andrew since he worked two years before I got here," said Carney. "I came in and I had no idea what I was doing. He knew what the job entailed, so he was able to communicate that to me. That's been a huge resource to me."
"I had a general idea of what needed to be done on a daily basis," said Hollowell. "A lot of it has to do with being able to manage your time and Graham does that really well. I'm fortunate that he does because it makes my job easier and we're able to work really well together.
"We've grown to be great friends out of this whole thing."
While they may not don the orange and white between the lines on courts one through six, the co-manager duo feel just as much a part of the team as anyone else.
"If you just view this as a part-time job, it's going to suck because it's a ton of time and a lot of responsibility and a lot of stress," said Carney. "To really invest in it so that those opportunities where we win or you care about how the team's doing and how the program's doing; if you make this like you own it, then that makes it worth it.
"That makes the late night stringing and all the stuff worth it because you've allowed yourself to feel like you're part of the program and that you're involved in your part of it. You feel like this is part of who I am and you want to make your mark on it."