LAWRENCEVILLE -- Chase Hodges showed up for his first day as the men's and women's tennis coach at Georgia Gwinnett College on July 1 and quickly learned what building a tennis program takes.
"You start with zero players," he said. "We didn't have any tennis balls, we didn't have clothing, we had no players. Putting two programs together from scratch has really been a tremendous challenge. Every day it's gotten a little bit easier."
Hodges said this after finishing up practice Tuesday at the Collins Hill Tennis and Fitness Center, the Grizzlies tennis teams' home facility. There were plenty of tennis balls to go around. Practice ended with some individual intra-team play, the only competition yet for the GGC tennis team. But that ends today.
And once the opening day hoopla passes this afternoon, it will finally be time for the men play tennis against another team. The women must wait until Feb. 15.
"We are just ready to play," Hodges said. "The build-up has been nice, but we are at the point now where we are sick of playing each other. Us having the opportunity to play an opponent is huge for us. I know the guys have been waiting and waiting. I expect us to come out, I don't know much about SCAD, I expect our team to come out and be ready to play. That's the goal."
The match against Savannah College of Art and Design begins at 2 p.m., but the kickoff festivities begin at 1:30 p.m. The school president Daniel Kaufman and the athletic director Darin Wilson plan to address the crowd and athletes from other GGC programs will be in attendance.
It's just another first in a year of them for GGC's young athletics program.
The men's team, void of players seven months ago, has nine active players including three from Gwinnett schools. Junior Shaine Brower went to Brookwood and freshmen Peter Bodnar went to Collins Hill and Aaron Harris went to Archer. There are also players from Brazil, Sweden and Australia.
"We have a nice mix," said Hodges, who came to GGC from Georgia State.
The women's roster is smaller and still in flux with some extra time before their first match. The four active players on the current roster are all from overseas, but that will change before Feb. 15.
But getting players and building a roster is always toughest the first season and Hodges expects less upheavals in future seasons. And success.
"Our goal is to win an NAIA championship, so when we are recruiting players, we have that in mind," Hodges said. "In terms of finding the numbers, that's relatively easy. GGC, as time passes, we'll become more of a household name. Our name is not where it needs to be or where it will be. With the school growing and getting bigger and bigger and with the athletic facilities being built I expect the future to get brighter and brighter."
The tennis facilities are equal to any in NAIA, according to Hodges and the mix with the community only strengthens the teams' penetration into the community.
"I think we, I've got to say, we have one of the premier facilities in NAIA," Hodges said. "I don't know of one that's better than ours."
Every little advantage helps. At Georgia State, Hodges had to fight for court time at Piedmont Park, now he has 16 courts, a weight room and a training room at his disposal. So today's match is just the start of a program with high sights.
"For the men and women's side, I hope we'll be solid this season, but I expect us to hit our full stride two or three years down the road," said Hodges, who's first-year program is not elgible for postseason play. "We are expecting to go out there this first year and represent this university the best we can. That's how we are looking at it. Our goal is to peak in 2014."