LAWRENCEVILLE — The Georgia Gwinnett College tennis program had to get creative in displaying its national honors.
Part of one wall at the Grizzlies training facility in Lawrenceville has 11 small plaques for the men’s and women’s NAIA championships won in the last six years. At that pace, soon there won’t be room for even those miniaturized banners.
That doesn’t include, either, all the individual titles claimed in the fall season, which begins Friday.
Madeline Bosnjak and Federico Herrera Duran, both ranked No. 1, return to defend their singles championships. They’ll compete against teammates as well as the rest of the country’s best from now until the ITA finals in November.
“We have an opportunity to win six more national titles — men’s and women’s singles and then you get two chances in men’s and women’s doubles,” head coach Chase Hodges said. “That’s what we’re playing for, to bring home some more national championships individually.
“We’ve got, in my opinion, the strongest fall schedule that we’ve ever had since I’ve been here.”
The opening weekend includes a split squad for the men. Assistant coach Hannah Keeling will take four men and four women to the Thomasville Collegiate Invitational. Four other players from the men’s team go with Hodges to his alma mater for the UNC-Wilmington Invitational.
The ITA South Regional is Sept. 20-22 in New Orleans — and event GGC has hosted for the last couple of years — followed by the Southern Intercollegiates at the University of Georgia on Sept. 27-29 and then the Grizzly Open starting Oct. 11. In the past, the Grizzly Open has coincided with the ITA Oracle Cup in Rome. This year, it’s a week later on Oct. 17-20.
“So we’ll be able to go full throttle in that and really put our best players out there (at the Grizzly Open),” Hodges said. “I you win your regional or get an at-large, you qualify for Rome. If you win Rome, the fall season finishes in Newport Beach, Calif., at the ITA Nationals.
“It’s intense. It’s a long schedule. College tennis does a full season. Tennis there’s no offseason.”
Players returned to campus a month ago.
“Everyone pretty much goes back to their home countries and they train — because they all know with the competitive nature on our team, it’s really important to come back in tip-top shape so you can make a strong impression in the fall,” Hodges said. “That’s one of the reasons I really like the fall season is that you really have the opportunity to see who has put the work in over the summer. To me, that’s exciting because you can’t fake any results.
“The fall season dictates your individual ranking. It really gives you a chance as a coach to sit back and see who is going to be your impact players (in the spring).”
The women have a smaller fall roster than the men, but are led by Bosnjak. Also returning from the team that won a fifth national championship in six years are Emerald Able, Gabby Robinson, Tereza Koplova. The Grizzlies had the No. 1 JUCO player, Maria Genovese, transfer in as well.
“We expect her to be extremely special for us,” Hodges said. “We think she’s going to have the opportunity to complete for a top spot.”
He’s looking to add a couple of more players in January, right before the official spring season gets started.
“On the women’s side, we have the opportunity in 2020 to have our best team ever,” Hodges said. “I’m really excited about our women’s program.”
The men’s roster is much more robust right now with 12 players. The Grizzlies lost just one singles starter, Rafael Coutinho, and one doubles starter, Ayed Zatar, to graduation.
“When you’re returning five of your top six, you’re feeling pretty good,” Hodges said. “Then you add in some new talent. We’re in good shape.
“On the men’s side, we can go really deep. Part of the run we’ve had over the last couple of years, we’ve had a lot of injuries that we’ve been able to withstand. That’s why the depth is really important and that’s the atmosphere we build here. Every spot is extremely important to our success. It’s a good problem to have, guys just waiting for the opportunity.”