By Dalton Ray–
Men’s tennis started the year nowhere near the top 50. With so many inexperienced players pushed into the lineup, expectations were scattered. Now in the final month of play, the Cardinals are 17-4 and No. 34 in the nation.
One reason for the jump in the rankings is the uptick in overall talent installed by coach Rex Ecarma. One unexpected player to jump into the limelight is freshman Parker Wynn.
Through the fall and spring seasons, Wynn is 27-8 in singles (11-2 during the regular season). Wynn isn’t just playing on the lower courts either. In the regular season, Wynn is 7-1 on the second court and 4-1 on the third court.
Born and raised in North Richland Hills, Texas, Wynn didn’t expect to play for U of L. Assistant coach Jakob Gustafsson played a large role in bringing Wynn to The Ville.
“I was looking at Texas Tech, that’s where my mom and dad went. I always thought I was going to stay in-state, but I had been talking to coach G for the longest, so I decided to take a visit,” Wynn said. “My mom and I just fell in love with the school and it just made sense.”
The confidence Gustafsson and Ecarma instilled in Wynn was one of the deciding factors.
“A lot of schools told me they had a spot for me in doubles but not singles, so that kind of pissed me off because I knew I could play singles too,” Wynn said. “Rex and coach G told me they knew my potential and they could turn me not only into a good doubles player but singles as well. I really liked what they had to say. For them to say they believed in me in singles, I started believing in myself.”
Along with an impressive record in singles, Wynn is a part of the No. 22 doubles team with senior Sean Donohue. The pair is 16-1 overall and 10-1 in the regular season. Ecarma said the two are so successful because both players are aggressive in doubles and speak the same language.
For Parker, playing in doubles has always been an advantage for him but it’s not his only strength.
“My transition game is one of my strengths right now. When I was in junior I had good volleys, but that was about my only weapon,” Wynn said. “In college, I’ve been working on not only taking the serve and volley and coming in, but taking my forehand and backhand and coming in with my ground strokes. Being able to take balls on the rise and finish them off is something I’m good at.”
Wynn had success in the summer and fall in the ITA circuits. That confidence rolled into the spring.
The marketing major earned praise and recognition not only from his coaches, but the players as well.
“When Parker came in, we all thought he may play on the fifth or sixth court, but when he started playing against him in practice, all of us noticed how good he is,” teammate Chris Morin-Kougoucheff said. “This guy has been playing second or third court all year and he’s been killing it. It’s pretty special.”
Most freshman, according to Ecarma, “hit a wall” fatigue wise in the spring because they’ve never played a college type season before.
“I don’t know if this kid knew there was supposed to be a wall or he crashed through it, but he just doesn’t look tired to me,” Ecarma said. “He’s playing high, on courts two or three and the court one in doubles. To be physically and mentally not fatigued shows how special he is.”
Ecarma said that Wynn is the surprise of the team, taking everyone by storm.
Homeschooled during his youth, Wynn doesn’t have a problem adjusting to the academic side of being an athlete. One adjustment all tennis player must face once they hit college is meshing with their team. For Wynn, that’s been one of the easiest transitions.
“The biggest surprise to me the most is how great (the team) is. Me being a freshman, they didn’t hesitate showing me the ropes. The transition coming in was so smooth because of those guys,” Wynn said.
One of the first times Wynn realized the strength of having his teammates’ support during in a tournament at East Tennessee State in the fall.
“I was down big in the first set and I started to hear them cheer me on from three courts down then I started to get pumped up,” Wynn said. “When the guys got behind me and rallying me on, I came back and won. What a world of difference it makes.”
Louisville has a history of successful tennis and former players never fail to come back and help out Wynn and his teammates.
“Albert (Wagner) is here for almost every match and we all love him. He was a great player here and he’s been a great guy to practice against,” Wynn said. “Jeremy Clark is always a great guy to have another. He always cheers us on in the crowd and is great at talking to the team. These guys coming back is huge, especially for me being a young guy. It’s always awesome hearing their success and what all this means to them.”
After having a down year in 2016, Ecarma has once again worked his magic to position the Cardinals to be successful for years to come. A large part of that success will ride on the back Wynn.
Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal