Greetings from the West Coast,
Before I touch on this weekend’s match-up, I would like to thank Principal Corona and Holy Spirit School for an outstanding turnout at our Minnesota match last Friday night. What a crowd! Boys, girls, moms, dads and many more all joined the Tide for an exciting contest that came down to the wire. For some it was their first Alabama sporting experience while many in attendance were witnessing their first tennis match. Mr. Perry Stewart, HS PE Teacher, was a key organizer/communicator of the event, while Ms. Tricia Schuster, HS Art Teacher, used her passionate creativity along with the help of the HS students to construct an incredible mural of Alabama mascot, Big Al, on a tennis court with racket in hand. Rising country music singer and current Holy Spirit 6th grader, Sadie McClendon, sang the national anthem, while her mother, Mrs. Annie McClendon, watched proudly from the stands. It was a super night of celebration and cheer while the Crimson Tide and Gophers staged a classic college tennis duel.
We suffered our first doubles point defeat as our visitors from the north made returns and volleys throughout their matches and capitalized on missed opportunities that we had to close out a couple. Mazen/PK took care of business on their court, while Edson/Zhe and Alexey/Thibault were up service breaks. The Gophers hung in there and chipped away at our leads, ultimately capturing both matches with the final point won in a tight tiebreaker (7-5).
The slim margins continued in singles play as each team split first sets across the six courts. When we grabbed some momentum, Minnesota calmly snatched it back and the tug-of-war continued throughout the night. Jeremy Gschwendtner claimed our first singles point with a solid straight set victory. PK and El Toro finished off their 3-set battles with 3 fingers proudly held high (to remind everyone of the 3rd set program) to even the match 3-3. All eyes shifted to court #1 where Mazen slugged it out with the Gophers’ big hitting Josip Krstanovic. The pair split the first two sets with Maz gaining some momentum heading into the third set after he captured the second set rather comfortably. The two players hit the ball very well and not much separated them. An early Minnesota service break proved to be the difference, however, and the Gophers squeezed out a 4-3 win. Sweat poured, lessons learned and a result posted. Next.
Onward and westward we have traveled as the team arrived in beautiful San Diego, “America’s Finest City”, Wednesday evening for a weekend of coastal shootouts. We play against my alma mater, San Diego State, on Friday at 3pm PST and then drive up the Pacific Coast Highway and face Pepperdine, Coach Robbie’s alma mater, on Sunday at high noon PST. The Aztecs and Waves competed in Tuscaloosa last Spring so we are fulfilling the “return trip”. Our first practice session came under a beautiful blue sky with sunshine beaming upon all of our pale skinned bodies. Sunblock was more than necessary. After a productive, 2-hour hit, the team headed to the beach for a chilly dip in the ocean and an intense soccer game on the sand. Alexey, Thibault, Jeremy, Patrick, Grant and Lalo came back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat Mazen, Edson, Zhe, Sam, Riccardo and me, 4-3. Such a bummer (for my squad) but a lot of fun.
A lot has changed on campus since I graduated back in 1991. More buildings, more students, more traffic to go along with a plethora of electric scooters all over the place, flip-flop fashion, terrific weather, great Mexican food and a very nice tennis facility. The Aztecs return the bulk of their team from last season and added a pair of newcomers over the summer. One Aztec, Fabian Roensdorf, is a hard hitting German who has done well at the #1 singles position. We will have our work cut out with the rest of the SDSU lineup but I like the challenges this match presents given the change in venue, slower playing surface and the outdoor elements. The game plan, however, won’t change as we must be disciplined and determined to build, capitalize, attack and finish not only on Friday but on Sunday in Malibu too.
Pepperdine began this season with a new coaching staff as former Notre Dame associate head coach, Adam Schaechterle, is now leading the Waves, and is assisted by former Mississippi State Bulldog, Tassilo Schmid. Together, the two of them know what it takes to build and be part of a winning tradition. They have welcomed several fresh faces onto their roster with a new vision, culture and philosophy taking shape under Adam and Tassilo’s guidance. I’m confident they are going to be tough and do all they can to keep the Crimson Tide from rolling onto the shores of the stunning Pepperdine campus. While live stats and video will not be available in San Diego, Alabama fans will be able to track our progress online in Malibu.
So we will strive on in this 15-round heavyweight season, keeping our gloves up, mouthpieces in, focusing on opportunities to capitalize and attack, with the ultimate goal of finishing bout after bout with improvement and progress. We are off over President’s Day weekend and will next compete in-state at the Blue-Gray National Tennis Classic in Montgomery, February 22 & 23. Here’s to keeping this “California Dreaming” weekend going.