By Dalton Ray–
The Louisville tennis team has been able to churn out top-level talent over the past ten years. Two of the big names in the program in recent memory are Austin Childs and Sebastian Stiefelmeyer, both receiving national recognition for their careers at U of L.
The next player in line to follow in their footsteps is senior Alex Gornet. The Saint Xavier graduate received extremely high praise from Head Coach Rex Ecarma.
“He’s the face of the program. After the NCAAs and Sebastian had played his last match, I think he knew it was all on him. Early in the summer he began doing leadership roles along with leading performance.”
Gornet credits a lot of the player he is now to the senior class that just graduated. The group of six is one of the best classes that ever came through Louisville. He admits not having them is a little different.
“They really taught me to relax and just play the game,” said Gornet. “You can still relax and have fun, but still be a serious athlete. They also told me to enjoy everyday and have fun with school because there is a life after this. I always had Albert (Wagner) or Sebastian at practice as two of the bigger guys on team, and they kept everyone in line. Now we’re in practice and I’m that guy now, so it’s a little different but I don’t think about it.”
The team this year consists of six freshman, two sophomores, one junior and two seniors — Gornet and Jeffery Brown. Gornet has said that he enjoys seeing the freshman come in and have fun and doesn’t think their lack of experience will hurt them too much.
“The good thing with these young players they want to come out and prove themselves. I don’t think they’ll go out and get scared or intimidated. I like the development I’ve seen so far.”
While he may not be the number one player in the nation, Gornet is an exceptional leader, role model, teammate and student.
Christine Simatacolos, the associate athletic director of student life, said Alex blew her away with his performance in her preseason meeting. The meeting helps explain school standards and codes of conduct, and one representative from each team relays the information back to their team.
“After sitting through about 18 different meetings, seeing different athletes present this information to their team, we felt like Alex was the best. He was a great representative of the leadership that we want to see in our student athletes. He commanded the attention of the team and he really embodies what we want to see in our student athletes. Alex truly believes in the code of conduct and fully understands the expectations and relayed that in a very positive, cognitive, and confident way.”
Ecarma has a tighter relationship with Alex than the average athlete because he played with Alex’s father, Tim.
“Both of them are very focused and brilliant people. They have long attention spans and are very competitive. The two are very disciplined and similar in many ways,” said Ecarma.
Tim Gornet was the lead designer in the 3D heart model that made national news and earned him the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) President’s award. Alex, like his father, takes academics very seriously and is a 4.0 student. He is also a Grawemeyer Scholar, which only ten students per class receive.
Coach Ecarma raves about the total package of Alex Gornet. He also believes the underclassmen will learn a lot form him.
“He is really is special. He’s not your average guy. How many people can say they have his academic achievements and be the top guy on their sport? I think throughout the season freshman will see more than just the tennis side of him. They will remember Alex Gornet.”
Ecarma is one of the most renowned coaches in the whole university. He is the only coach Athletic Director Tom Jurich hasn’t hired himself. Coach Ecarma has been huge for Gornet, and he has done a lot for him.
“Tough love is probably the best way to describe it. He’s not going to sugar coat things, and he won’t let you get away with not going 100 percent. At the end of the day, he has the best interest for you, and he takes your game to places you didn’t think were possible. He truly cares about every player and wants them to improve as a person and player. He’s like a father-figure and a great coach.”
Looking back, Gornet says he can’t exactly pick out his best athletic achievement at U of L.
“Doubles wise I’ve done pretty well. Me and my partner (Brown) are ranked number 35 right now. As a career I have a good winning record, but it’s tough to pick out one thing. My favorite moment came when I clinched my first match. It was against Indiana my sophomore year. I came back deep in the third set, and the whole court was watching.”
Cardinal pride is very important to Gornet. He says the athletic community at U of L is very close, no matter the sport.
“The biggest thing about being a Cardinal is every sport is the same. I’ve talked to different people at different schools, and they say not all sporting teams truly associate with each other. Here you have basketball players hanging out with tennis players, football will hang out with soccer guys. We do a really good job of supporting each other, and we make those connections. ‘Proud to be a Cardinal’ isn’t just a saying because you really feel the sense of community, and you’re not just playing for yourself or the team but the university.”
While most top athletes come through the university and make an impact in their sport, not all make an impact off the court. Gornet has the special ability to do both.
Whether it’s being one of the better tennis players in the ACC, one of the top students in the school or just being a great citizen Gornet has all in one. The local star has the rare combination that wins on and off the court.
File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal