Every April, the Georgia Gwinnett College tennis players begin 7 a.m. conditioning runs.
Every May, they win national championships.
Their fitness is a big reason why and head coach Chase Hodges isn’t about to mess with success.
“We build up for nationals as opposed to resting,” Hodges said. “We train harder when it matters the most.”
The tennis program has won 11 of 12 NAIA titles since it became playoff eligible.
The men won their sixth straight on Saturday morning and are unbeaten in 109 straight matches. The women followed it up hours later with their fourth straight and fifth in six years.
Overseeing it all is Hodges, hired to start the program in the summer of 2012. His first day on the job was July 1, 2012 and he sat in his office with an empty roster. Hodges didn’t even have tennis balls in stock yet.
He eclipsed the 500-win mark for his career this season.
“I’m lucky,” Hodges said. “I’ve been at GGC since the beginning and I never would have thought that in 2019, we’d have 11 national titles. It’s a tribute to the administration and the staff. It’s a total team effort.
“I’m just trying to enjoy the moment. As I’ve gotten a little more experience with it, I just try to enjoy it and when next year gets here, it gets here. The kids come back in mid-August so I’ve got time to unwind a little bit.”
The men, with their unprecedented winning streak, were a prohibitive favorite to claim another title. Ranked at the top of the coaches poll from the get-go, the Grizzlies didn’t falter.
“The biggest thing with the guys, 109 wins in a row and six national titles, how do you maintain that?” Hodges said. “It really just comes down to they’re extremely motivated athletes. With the dynasty and tradition we’ve built, they don’t want to let down any former Grizz.
“We’re going to lose eventually, let’s be honest, but they don’t want it to happen on their watch. Especially in the national tournament.”
The men didn’t cede a single point in their playoff run. Sweeping doubles to start each match was pivotal.
Hodges paired sophomore Federico Bonacia with senior Ayed Zatar in the No. 1 spot. Another senior-sophomore combo, Rafael Coutinho and Valentino Caratini, were at No. 2 for the tournament. Then Hodges put junior and top-ranked Federico Herrera Duran with freshman Daniel Czepielewski at No. 3.
“Our doubles play was outstanding,” Hodges said. “That was the difference. In order to beat us, you’re going to have to pick up a point in doubles.”
The Grizzlies blanked Arizona Christian, which was riding a 19-match winning streak, in the opener last Wednesday. The whole thing was over in under two hours.
So were the 5-0 sweeps of Keiser, in a rematch of last year’s final, and William Carey to get to the championship match with Xavier.
The teams have met in the final three times in the last six years.
“(Xavier) played well in the doubles, but we were able to separate ourselves about 20 minutes in and build a lead,” Hodges said.
The women hardly needed any more time dispatching their opponents. They finished the season 20-1 and beat Keiser 5-2 for the championship.
“We wanted to peak when it mattered most,” Hodges said. “Our women really stepped up their game and our seniors did a great job.
“We kind of cruised to the finals, to be honest.”
The Grizzlies opened with a 5-0 rout of Westmont (Calif.). The quarterfinals were a 5-1 win over Brenau and GGC punched its ticket to the finals with a shutout of William Carey. The women spent less than six cumulative hours on court to get to the matchup with Keiser.
“That was big for us,” Hodges said. “We felt really fresh heading into that final.”
The key, again, was getting a quick lead in doubles action. Seniors Henar Munoz and Maria Prados Cid gave the Grizzlies a crucial 2-1 lead with their win at No. 2 doubles.
Leading the charge in both singles and doubles was top-ranked Madeline Bosnjak, who earned MVP honors for the tournament as a sophomore.
“She was incredible this week,” Hodges said. “She dominated at the No. 1 spot and really set the tone.”
Though both teams were efficient in their domination, those early morning conditioning runs made a difference.
“With the tournament, it’s a marathon and we want to make sure we have something left in the tank at the end,” Hodges said. “We practice in the heat, too. The good thing about our area is its good preparation (for Mobile). We have a recipe for success for the national tournament and the morning conditioning has always been a part of it.
“The biggest thing is that fitness is never going to be an issue. A lot of athletes run into that because of the heat and humidity and playing every day. As a coach, I know one thing you can control is your fitness.”