September 6, 2007

Men's Tennis Looks to Underclassmen

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Little more than two weeks into the new school year, a handful of freshmen tennis stars have already mastered the concept of team cohesion. Often, extraordinary talent translates to an inflated ego that can cripple a team (recall Terrell Owens and the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005), but not with these guys.
The fabulous five of Cornell’s youth tennis movement — Jeremy Feldman, Brandon Smyth, Mirza Klis, Jonathon Jaklitsch, and Andy Gaulthier — are contributing to this group solidarity, too.
“We’re always kind of together. We’re the freshmen,” Smyth said. Coincidentally, Smyth and Jaklitsch are roommates in one of the north campus townhouses.
“He’s from Long Island, and we’ve known each other for a long time. So that’s pretty cool,” Smyth said.
Feldman, a native of Armonk, New York, and a government major, agrees that team togetherness has emerged already in practice. He described the atmosphere among the freshmen.
“It’s really good, because we’re all in the same situation. I think we’re feeding off of each other. We’re all learning at the same time. We’re going to be able to play together for the next four years,” Feldman said.
Strong belief in the team will most certainly be a necessity as the Red begins the 2007-08 season. Competition at the Division I collegiate level bears little resemblance to high school.
“In high school, I was the best on the team and it’s not as intense because the players aren’t as good. But now in college, every match is intense. You have to be in top physical shape to play,” Smyth said.
With the fall segment of the Red’s season set to begin on September 14 at home (the primary season is in the spring), senior co-captain, Weston Nichols, is rounding his team into shape with daily two-hour practices. Nichols has taken note of how the guys have come together.
“It’s amazing. We haven’t even gotten into competition yet, but I feel like they have already gotten into the team spirit,” Nichols said.
Beginning his final season with the Red, Nichols has one final chance to impart the values of teamwork that he has learned during his Cornell career.
After this year, he intends to continue playing tennis in graduate school, where he hopes to study computational biology. Understanding that many players end their tennis careers after college, Nichols believes that his experiences in Ithaca have prepared him for what lies ahead.
“It’s hard to keep playing if you have a job. The hours don’t really work out. But I think for me, the hours will work out better so I can keep training through grad school and eventually get into some pro tournaments,” Nichols said.
As Nichols prepares to close out his Cornell athletic career, the future looks bright both for him and for the team. With one-third of the men’s squad being talented freshmen, exceptional tennis talent will take residence on the Red’s courts for many years to come.
“Our team in general is pretty young this year, but I think we’re going to be exciting to watch. We have the potential to be a great team,” Feldman concluded.