Hello from the Plains of Lee County, Alabama…home of Auburn University.
As Willie Nelson once sang, we’re “on the road again.” And like a band of gypsies, we went down the highway (as in Highway 82) and landed in Tiger country for another rendition of the Iron Bowl. This famed and heated rivalry became the extension of a bitter political debate that took place in the Alabama State Legislature many moons ago. As we all know that debate led to settling differences between the hash marks on the football field. This Friday it will extend between the baselines on the tennis court. From a historical standpoint, Alabama and Auburn first met on the gridiron in 1893 when the Tigers were known as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama. There have been 83 Iron Bowl meetings since the inaugural kickoff with the Crimson and White leading the series 46-36-1.
The tennis programs haven’t competed against each other for that many years but there is always a little extra something when the two teams face off. I remember my first year coaching at the Capstone and we played at Auburn…quite the intro to the rivalry. I took the team downtown for dinner and we parked close to Toomer’s Corner. I had no idea of the significance of this spot located at the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and College Street but would later educate myself on the famed poisoning of the legendary trees that lined this sacred place of (Auburn) celebration. We walked down Magnolia and I led the team into Moe’s Original BBQ proudly wearing a brand new crimson and white sweatsuit. Meanwhile several team members lagged behind as if to boycott the restaurant choice. As I walked through the door it was as if time stood still. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked in our direction. It was priceless and also a definite sign that we didn’t fit in. We eloquently turned around and walked out of the restaurant while several guys shared laughs at the unwelcoming experience. Time for an audible. After a few quick Yelp searches, we picked a positively reviewed Italian restaurant, Venditori’s, and thus began a new team tradition. We’ve now eaten at Venditori’s every time we’ve traveled to the Plains, sat at the same table and engulfed hundreds of their famed garlic rolls. Delizioso!
The (Tennis) Iron Bowl kicks off Friday at 3:00pm at the Yarborough Tennis Center which is located about ten minutes from campus. It’s our only contest of the weekend and promises to be a challenging match for all of us. I guess that’s what can be expected when you mix crimson, white, blue and orange altogether. The Tigers return a similar roster from a season ago as well as a couple of new additions in their singles and doubles lineups. They’ve had some tight contests thus far in the SEC and will be swinging freely and fearlessly. We will need to embrace the challenge and compete.
We’re coming off a pair of tough defeats in our Alabama vs. Mississippi week but I’m confident in our ability to respond. We had some outstanding performances in Starkville against Hail State as well as at home versus Ole Miss. Jeremy Gschwendtner continued “doing his thing” as the guys like to call it, or in other words, playing the game the way he practices the game – focused, determined and spirited. Great to see for a guy that sat out of competition for twelve months per NCAA rules, committed to a development plan and has never taken his foot off the pedal. Roll Tide Jer! Patrick and Mazen continued building their doubles mojo and camaraderie, while Zhe, like Jeremy, recorded a couple of solid showings against the Bulldogs and Rebels, including a doubles clincher with partner Alexey Nesterov. The new lefty-righty combo were clutch down the stretch against the Rebs with their serves, returns and finishing volleys. Edson and Riccardo also contributed some solid tennis last week as they continue to improve match after match while also facing some stiff competition.
We’ve had a good week of training and are ready for the Tigers. I’ve challenged the team (players, coaches and support staff) to take pride in our ability to respond to anything our opponents give us and give it right back. We need to keep practicing this as there’s a lot more tennis to be played and we’re not anywhere near where we’re going to be as competitors by the end of conference play. If you’ve got some time to join us at the Yarborough Tennis Center we’d love to see some crimson and white amid the blue and orange. If not then join us online for the live stream and stats. And remember, as our fight song so proudly states, “And if a man starts to weaken, that’s a shame. For Bama’s pluck and grit have writ her name in Crimson flame. Fight on, fight on, fight on men!”