May 1, 2013
By: Nick Carner
Tuesday evening, Vol Tennis team members--men and women--clad in everything from suits to shorts to sweats, crowded around an oversized, crescent-moon shaped, wrap-around couch inside the Goodfriend Tennis Center.
They awaited their fate, delivered by a shiny-black, Sharp flat screen, with healthy anticipation.
But, once the seedings for the 2013 NCAA Tennis Championships were divvied out, there was no jumping, clapping or high-fiving.
As the selection-induced suspense lifted, the focus quickly shifted--back to the task at hand.
The men are riding high and ranked sixth in the country, anything less than the No. 7 seed would have been a letdown. It provides them an opportunity to host the first and second rounds, which is welcome news for a team that finished the regular season 12-1 at home.
"It would have been a pretty big disappointment if we didn't host," All-SEC First-Team selection Hunter Reese said, candidly.
There's a quiet, but unmistakable confidence coming from head coach Sam Winterbotham's team heading into the tournament. They're hungry and young, but no longer green.
"Everybody's really excited," Reese said. "We've been talking a lot at practice about how this is just the start of our season. A lot of people are thinking the season is winding down but we're not. This is what we play for."
"This year, I feel like we've really learned a lot," Winterbotham said. "The SEC schedule is so tough. They're battle-tested."
For the ladies, there's a different vibe floating around:
Us against the world.
They drew a tough matchup with VCU in Chapel Hill for round one, and it's gonna be a battle. They have to scratch, claw and bite (no, not literally) to win matches.
"I'm really excited to go to Chapel Hill," senior Kata Szekely said. "We have nothing to lose, honestly. We just have to play hard, fight hard, and we'll see what happens."
Co-head coach Mike Patrick indicated that the willingness to compete, and some well-timed team health, provide the Lady Vols a chance to realize some potential and make some noise in the tournament.
"In about a week, we could be as healthy as we've been since last year's February," Patrick said. "About 15 months ago, we were top-five in the country and feeling good, but we've been battling injuries since. I think we'll be healthy and ready to compete. That's the big thing, we're going to have to come out and compete really hard."
Although the team battled injuries for most of the season, Szekely is making no excuses for the Lady Vols.
"I really think the injuries can help us against UNC and especially against VCU," Szekely said. "They made us tougher. There are no easy matches. Everyone wants to get to the sweet sixteen just as bad as everyone else. You have to be ready everyday."