April 13, 2012
BY MATT MAGILL
The Tennessee tennis team will honor its only senior, Bryan Swartz, during the season finale Saturday against Georgia at 1 p.m. Here's a look at how the team's respected senior has spent his career in Orange and White.
Everyone always jokes that Bryan Swartz is slow. He's a slow eater, slow driver and he's not exactly swift on the court.
More than anything else, Swartz has proven himself patient.
He trained in Barksdale Stadium when the team was on the road to conference titles. He was in the weight room during the summer while others were at home or on vacation. From the practice courts to the stands, he has supported the Vols through the most successful period in program history.
Now, after three and a half years of waiting, he's earned time in the singles lineup for the first time in his career just in time for the Vols' postseason push. The path to the lineup, however, was just as unorthodox as his long, looping forehand.
"We love Bry," head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "It's a privilege to be around that guy. He just does everything right and he loves this program and his teammates. He works incredibly hard."
FROM SARASOTA TO KNOXVILLE
A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Swartz passed on multiple scholarship offers to walk-on at Tennessee based on a "gut feeling." Early in his freshman season, he found himself in the doubles lineup, winning eight matches.
After the 2009 season, with the addition of in-state and international junior stars Tennys Sandgren and Rhyne Williams, Swartz found himself off the travel squad for tournaments and conference matches and was forced to wait a while longer during his sophomore and junior years.
Undeterred by a lack of playing time, he packed on twenty pounds of muscle with an intense workout and diet regimen last summer.
SUCCESS AND INJURY
With the off-court work leading into his senior year, results started to come right away.
Swartz picked up his first two tournament wins of his career at the Tennessee Fall Invitational, winning the second-flight singles championship and teaming up with Brandon Fickey for a doubles crown. Swartz led the team in fall wins with 10, the same number he won his entire junior season.
After the Tennessee Fall Invitational, Swartz began to feel a puzzling pain and for months the answer eluded doctors. In December, doctors figured out he had a hernia, derailing his newfound momentum.
"It was tough for me to sit on the sidelines and not be able to give 100 percent because of an injury," Swartz said. "Knowing I had such a good fall, it was a downer. I had a similar surgery before so I knew the recovery time and what I had to do. I worked as hard as I could as soon as possible."
The coaching staff was forced to explore other options to start the season at No. 6. Swartz eventually worked his way back into the doubles lineup where he teamed up with Fickey and Edward Jones and produced some positive results including the clinching victory over Clemson at the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic. The coaching staff decided Swartz was fit enough to play again at No. 6.
"A lot of people would handle that injury differently," Winterbotham said. "All he did was work. He didn't complain."
For the first time since his freshman season, Swartz has found himself in the Tennessee lineup. Two weeks ago at Arkansas, he played his first SEC singles dual-match and promptly collected his first SEC dual-match win and added another against Vanderbilt. The last player on the court against Vanderbilt, his teammates mobbed him after his win in jubilation.
In spite of all the hard work, the Sarasota, Fla., native seems genuinely surprised and humbled by his recent successes. His personality has a certain charm that makes all of his teammates pull for him to succeed. Winterbotham called him "one of the finest human beings you'll have a chance to be around."
If you're watching a Tennessee tennis match, Swartz might be the last player you notice. He typically doesn't yell after points and you'll rarely see him smash a winner over the fence and onto Caledonia Avenue. Each point is a grind. On the court, he shows the same patience he did for the three years he was out of the lineup.
"He waited for his opportunity and now he's taken his opportunity like a champion," Winterbotham said.
On Saturday against Georgia, Swartz will play his last regular season match. He might not be the flashiest player or have the most prolific career, but Swartz and his patience have served Tennessee well.
"I just knew somehow this was the right fit," Swartz said. "Looking back at it four years later, I think it was the right decision. I grew a lot while I was here. I grew as a player and as a person while I was in this program. At the time, (coming to Tennessee) was a tough decision, but looking back I'm glad I made that decision.
"I wouldn't change anything about it."