The University of Georgia had an amazing 2016 season, winning the fourth-straight SEC Championship and staying undefeated in regular Conference (12-0) and overall home matches (13-0). Also, the team reached the NCAA Tournament semi-final for the 23rd time in school history, all under the guidance of illustrious coach Manuel Diaz, who is entering his 29th season as the men's tennis head coach! The Bulldogs will launch the season at MLK/Georgia Tech Invitational on January 14-16, and 4 days later there's a big match against Georgia Tech. With the beginning of the season being just around the corner, head coach Diaz spoke for the official site his expectations and the way the team has prepared for the spring tests:
What were some of your takeaways from the fall season?
Early on, as we usually start competing, it’s typically a mixed bag, but eventually you find out where you are and what you need to work on. I thought the fall was very productive, and the most important thing is that we finished on a high note, seeing a lot of improvement from everybody. I thought we worked hard. Overall, I thought we had a great performance from Wayne Montgomery to finish the fall, beating one of the top players in the country, Thai-Son Kwiatowski from Virginia. Emil Reinberg had an extremely good fall, winning the Georgia Tech tournament and doing well pretty much everywhere he played. We had very solid performances from Walker Duncan at the ITA Regionals and Jan Zielinski, who really started coming on strong. The freshmen take a little bit more time to get comfortable, but we certainly had good performances from Robert Loeb, Nathan Ponwith and Alex Phillips.
What impact do you expect the No. 1 signing class to have this season?
The freshmen are going to be very important to our success. At the same time, you always are interested in seeing how the chemistry develops, how they incorporate themselves in the squad, and how quickly they buy into what we are trying to accomplish as a program. There are always growing pains. It takes a little while to settle in to everything, but I’m really encouraged where they are.
What is it like having no seniors on the roster?
It’s a challenge you very seldom encounter where you don’t have any seniors. It’s a bigger challenge to get people to lead, and to show maturity as a team is going to be really important. We are young, and we are more susceptible to not realizing what the challenge is and what the importance of little things is. The younger guys are in a position where they need to show the way. We need to show improvements on a daily basis and hopefully we can do that throughout the season.
What are the team’s goals for this season?
We certainly have our sights set on winning an SEC Championship, as we always do, and hopefully being in the top four by the end of the year as we head into the NCAAs would be something that we want to achieve. It’s going to be very hard to accomplish but I think we are capable of it. We have a lot of challenges. Our conference this year is going to be very strong and very deep. The fact is that you can’t have any days off. You have to be at your best each and every day. Hopefully, by the end of the year, that will make us a better team.
What are your expectations for Wayne Montgomery this year?
He played a good bit at No. 1 early on in his career and he played No. 1 a little bit early on last year. He knows what it takes. He knows that he has to come ready and be at his best. The biggest challenge is the week of practice prior to our matches. When Wayne has a good week of practice, he is as good as anybody in the country. Having him locked in during the week of practice is of the utmost importance to him.
What do you expect from Paul Oosterbaan returning from injury?
He had a tremendous summer and showed tremendous progress last year. He’s shown maturity through his injury this fall. I think he’s gained a new perspective and he is very focused on maximizing these holidays and these last couple of weeks. I see tremendous growth in him through the way he is treating his injury and how he is treating every minute at practice. It’s always hard coming back from an injury. He’s going to have to keep putting things in perspective. He isn’t going to be at his best right off the bat, but he needs to show progress on a daily basis.
How can Emil Reinberg build off of his productive fall?
He just needs to continue to improve and continue to stay hungry. He was very motivated to make his mark during the summer tournaments and this fall. This spring, for him, is going to be about whether he still has that burn going to make his mark and try to play towards the top of the lineup. In order to do that, he has to show consistency in his practices and as far as being mentally prepared to play at a high level each and every match.
If the team accomplishes its goals, what will the players have done right?
I think that we will be able to say that we came together as a team and made each other accountable on a daily basis, and that everybody decided to lead and play their role, which is very important, no matter who you are.
ALSO READ: Josh Aubrey and Carl Solik will be Charlotte 49ers team captains in 2017