ATLANTA--The Georgia State men's tennis team begins a new era in its first season of competition in the Sun Belt Conference under the leadership of first-year head coach Joerg Barthel during the Spring 2013 season.
GSU's season begins on Friday, Jan. 18 in Chattanooga, Tenn., as the Panthers take on Chattanooga at 6 p.m. The team returns a core group of players that helped guide it to a 20-5 record and a trip to the conference semifinals last year. The team opens its home slate on Jan. 21 with a 1 p.m. match vs. Tennessee Tech. The match will be played at the Peachtree City Tennis Center. The Panthers enter the season ranked No. 60 in the country.
The Panthers are coming off a successful fall where senior Victor Valente stood out with strong performances at the ITA Southeast Regional and the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships. The Sao Paulo, Brazil, native defeated two nationally-ranked singles opponents to advance to the championship match at the Southeast Regional. By doing so he earned a spot in the prestigious Indoor Intercollegiate Championships where he battled two nationally-ranked foes.
Barthel begins his tenure at Georgia State after serving as the Associate Head Coach at the University of Nebraska for the last six seasons. Under Barthel and Nebraska head coach Kerry McDermott, the Cornhuskers earned their first two NCAA berths in school history in 2010 and 2011 and made their first appearances in the ITA National Men's Team Indoor Championship in 2011 and 2012. The 2010 team achieved the highest national ranking in program history at No. 25 in the ITA poll.
"[Assistant Coach] Cesar Vargas and I are very excited to be working with this group in our first year at GSU," Barthel said, "The team took some good strides in our first fall semester and the players are starting to see their progress. Our philosophy is based around hard work in order to be prepared for a long season. Our team is ready to go to work and compete at the highest level possible."
Georgia State returns four starters from last year's squad, one that combined for a dominant 109-35 (.762) record in singles play. Leading the way is Valente who enters 2013 following a stellar fall and a 16-5 singles record last spring. Valente was the team's primary No. 1 singles player and went 14-4 while playing against opposing teams' top players. He was an All-CAA First Team Singles honoree last season.
Also returning is junior Thomas Cook, an All-CAA Second Team Singles award winner last year who put together a stellar 17-7 mark and at one point won 13 straight singles matches. Cook rotated between the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in GSU's lineup and owns a 33-15 career mark in singles play during dual matches.
"Victor's game jumped significantly from last year and he is coming off the best fall season of his career," Barthel said, "He is playing more aggressive and is learning to be aggressive when he has to. I see him improving even more this year and being our leader on the court."
"The progress in Thomas Cook's game is visible and him and I both know where he needs to continue to work to improve his game," Barthel said, "Over the next two years he will be the heart of our team and I look forward to seeing him lead on and off the court. I believe that he will be nationally ranked in the next few years."
The Panthers also return two stellar depth players in senior Lucas Santa Ana and sophomore Sofiane Chevallier. Santa Ana owns a 43-12 all-time record in singles play and battled injuries last year to post eight singles wins in the spring. He finished the year on a four-match winning streak. Chevallier arrived at GSU just prior to the spring semester and went 9-4 in singles matches.
"Lucas is a gift for us, he is a great leader that fights through adversity, handles pressure very well and simply competes tougher than his opponent," Barthel said, "That is what I want this program to be all about. Furthermore, his game has become for aggressive this year and I think he will see the benefits of that in the spring."
GSU welcomed one newcomer prior to the fall semester in Robert Schulze, a junior transfer from Nebraska. Schulze was a valuable member of the team in the fall, posting a 4-2 singles record and reaching the finals of the singles draw at the Georgia Southern Championships. The Panthers will welcome three newcomers to the team in Chinmay Handa, Paul Schuette and Andrew Zedde prior to the spring semester.
"I worked with Robbie for two years at Nebraska and I am glad he is on board, he is a great leader on and off the court," Barthel said. "All the newcomers will make immediate impacts in our lineup. Most have just arrived on campus so we will have to give them some time to get used to being away from their home country first before they compete for us."
The Georgia State men's tennis team went a solid 40-26 (.606) in doubles play last spring. Several pairings showed promise in the fall and head into this year looking to fill out the doubles lineup.
Valente led the team with 14 doubles victories last season as he paired with three different partners. He joined graduated Juan Pablo Gutierrez in doubles last year and earned All-CAA Second Team Doubles honors. Santa Ana was second on the team with 11 victories while Cook added nine doubles wins.
One of the most successful doubles pairings in program history, Valente and Santa Ana reunited in the fall to post a 5-2 record together. Chevallier and Schulze teamed up to earn a 5-1 record and won the Main Draw doubles title at the Georgia Southern Championships. The two also won a match vs. Miami's Victor Mauz and Jack Murphy at the ITA Regionals.
The Panthers look to solidify a third doubles pairing with a combination of newcomers and veterans in the first few matches of the season.
"If there is one area that we will continue to work on it is doubles," Barthel said. "We are trying to change our mindset in all areas of doubles in order to be more aggressive. I see progress but this is for sure an area where our philosophy will need some time before it fully adjusts."
Georgia State kicks-off its 2013 dual-match season at Chattanooga before returning to Atlanta for its home opener in mid-January. The Panthers qualified for the first time in program history for the annual ITA Kick-Off Weekend and will travel to Charlottesville, Va., to take on 56th-ranked Arkansas on Jan. 25 and No. 1 Virginia or No. 64 North Florida the next day.
The 63rd-ranked Panthers begin February with a three-match homestand before travelling to Johnson City to take on two nationally-ranked foes. GSU plays No. 71 ETSU on Feb. 15 and Barthel's former team Nebraska (#74) the next day. The Panthers then return home for their first Sun Belt Conference match of the year against 53rd-ranked South Alabama.
GSU renews its crosstown rivalry with No.59-ranked Georgia Tech on Feb. 28 at the Georgia Tech Tennis Center (4 p.m.). Another local rival, Kennesaw State, visits the Blackburn Tennis Center for a match with the Panthers on Mar. 2 at 10 a.m.
The Panthers face off against their second conference opponent, 70th-ranked Louisiana Lafayette, on Mar. 9. It is also their first of three-consecutive matches vs. ranked opponents with No. 73 UAB (Mar. 13) and No. 64 North Florida (Mar. 18) following the that match.
GSU wraps up its regular season on Apr. 13 in a home conference match vs. Troy (1 p.m.). The team will hold Senior Day ceremonies prior to the match to honor two of the most successful four-year seniors in program history in Santa Ana and Valente. The Sun Belt Conference Championship begins on Apr. 18 in Lafayette, La.
"We are playing a very competitive schedule against many ranked teams," Barthel said, "My goal is to get the program going in the right direction in the next few years so we can strengthen the schedule in the future. The fact that we are playing in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend event this year is a great achievement by the returning players."
Visit the men's tennis page on GeorgiaStateSports.com throughout the spring for previews and recaps of all GSU matches.