By Noah Allison–
In his 26 years of coaching the U of L men’s tennis team, Rex Ecarma has never had as young of a roster as he does this season. With two seniors, one junior, two sophomores and six freshmen, Ecarma has his work cut out for him as the ACC season approaches.
“It’s the youngest team I’ve had in 26 seasons here. I’ve got to be patient with them but keep my expectations high. Just because they are young doesn’t mean I have to lower my expectations,” Ecarma said.
This year’s cast is a polar opposite from last year’s, a team that had five seniors and was led by Sebastian Stiefelmeyer, who entered the spring season as the number one ranked player in the nation. With nothing but youth and upside to look forward to, Ecarma is utilizing every match to help his squad grow.
With a 3-5 record this season, Louisville’s last few outings have been tough, falling to Memphis 0-4, UC Santa Barbara 3-4, Middle Tennessee 1-4 and Oregon 1-6. As the team moves on, Ecarma believes the tough losses were helpful in the team’s growth.
“I think that they took away that they could get sharper at every phase of the game, that they weren’t playing too badly but ran into some fantastic competition on some very different courts than ours. Ours are slow indoors, we ran into some fast indoors. So that’s how they took it,” Ecarma said.
“The last couple days the practices have been great. The guys have been really tuned in; they’ve worked really hard. We call it cleaning up our game, making fewer mistakes, less unforced errors and I’ve been really pleased with practice.”
Ecarma isn’t shy about playing his freshmen and catching them up to speed. In the fall Louisville Invitational, Ecarma played only his freshmen against competition from all over the country. Ecarma believes he’s seen considerable growth in particular individuals since then.
“The guy that has really made a jump is Christian Haushammer. He had a very spotty fall. Some good, some not so good, still trying to understand college tennis and understand the Louisville system, the Louisville way. But he came back, he did everything we asked him to do during the offseason and he came back on fire. He’s become such a team guy instead of the individual guy. That’s the guy who’s really made a jump,” Ecarma said.
Sophomore Courtney Lock is one of the young players that are stepping up. The 6-foot-4 underclassman hails from Zimbabwe and recently won the ACC Player of the Week honors.
“Sebastian Stiefelymeyer was number one in America and the ACC never ever gave him player of the week,” Ecarma joked. “So I don’t know if that was payback for the Sebastian debacle, I don’t know what that was, but I am glad we got one and I am glad they named Courtney because that meant a lot to him. Very few people in college tennis want to be successful as much as Courtney.”
With such a youth filled roster, Ecarma is opening his mind to the different coaching traits required to be successful. Growing even more as a coach 26 years into the job.
“One, I’ve got to learn patience. Because with those seniors I would say just a few things and they would know what I am talking about, I didn’t have to re-explain things. I’ve got to teach these guys with patience, but I also don’t want to say that its going to be a tough season, we can still do quite a bit of winning and play in the NCAA Tournament. This program has been in 11 or 12 NCAA Tournaments, that’s something we finish out our season with,” Ecarma said.
With the influx of freshman Ecarma turns to a fellow Louisville head coach for inspiration.
“Look at what Bobby Petrino did in football. Yeah the way they started off, nobody expected 0-3, but all those three teams they lost to are all very good. And he played his freshman, he played them. And by the end of the year, those two wins against SEC teams, then those freshmen looked like sophomores. So I’m really taking Bobby Petrino’s lead and playing young guys early, developing them, getting them comfortable in the system and getting them ready for the end of the season.”