By Noah Allison–
Rex Ecarma, Louisville’s men’s tennis coach, has faced a season unlike any other in his 26 years at U of L.
“One time I was listening to a Rick Pitino press conference and he said something like, ‘Well, it could be a bridge year for us.’
“I thought, ‘what in the world is a bridge year?’ I never knew what the was, until this year.”
A cast of seven freshmen, two sophomores, one junior and two seniors make up this year’s men’s tennis roster. The young squad has an overall record of 11-12. In the ACC, the competition has proven to be especially challenging.
The Cards have started 0-7 in ACC play and are fighting for their first conference win. With just three weeks left in the regular season the Cardinals are fighting to end the season on a high note.
“Its tough to be inexperienced in the number one tennis league in America, because it’s a guillotine every match,” Ecarma said. “But I don’t think the guys are down or the coaches are down. We are just trying to find the winning formula.”
With seven freshmen on the roster one would think that in the last few weeks of the season the underclassmen would get an increased amount of playing time. Ecarma is taking a different route.
“Some coaches right now would just start to play their freshman and prepare for the future. But I don’t want to do that; I don’t think its fair to Jeff Brown and Alex Gornet (the two seniors) to start focusing on the young guys. We want to win,” Ecarma said.
“As a veteran coach I’ve seen plenty of young teams struggle. When they don’t give up and continue to listen to their coaches and continue to fight with all their heart they end being a good team.”
Throughout the year Ecarma has been sure to get all nine of his underclassmen substantial playing time. Now it is about committing to a roster and finishing the year strong.
“A lot of the young guys have gotten to play. It’s not like they haven’t seen the court.
“I’ve re-shuffled the line up quite a few times, changed doubles partners; we’ve done a lot of different things. This last month I want stability. In the last few weeks that doubles line-up has really been solidified, we’ve had the same six guys playing.
“I’m going to start doing that more with my singles line-up and just say ‘hey guys, these last few weeks of the season you are going to be the horses that we run on. Just be ready to play.’”
It’s been a peculiar year for Ecarma. He is U of L’s most tenured head coach and has over 400 career victories. It goes to show how much each season can differ from the last in college athletics.
“I can’t compare them to all of the other teams I’ve had,” Ecarma said. “It’s a learning process because kids are different: parenting styles are different, society is different. So running the same script for 26 years wont work.”
Last year Ecarma had five seniors he could rely upon. With the influx of freshmen it’s no surprise that things have drastically changed in a year.
“I’ve been coaching a completely different way this year. Last year when I ran practice the players knew the drill before I even said it. We had a script,” Ecarma said.
“Now, every day seems like a new day. I’ve been trying so many different things to get us going that they have no idea what’s coming next. I don’t expect different results if I am doing the same thing in preparation. We want to win. We don’t want to waste this year and call it a bridge year. We want to see what we can do these next three weeks and try to make a run in the ACC Tournament.”
With little time to waste, Ecarma has to stick to a group that will bring U of L wins. At the end of the day, it’s the simple approach to sports.
“Nobody wants to sit the bench,” he said. “That’s kind of the nature of the beast. If you want to guarantee yourself playing time, you just have to keep on winning.”
Photo by Dalton Ray / The Louisville Cardinal