ATLANTA - A youthful men’s tennis team with five freshmen among the nine players overcame adversity and battled through a rugged schedule to finish the season with an 11-14 record, including two wins over ranked opponents.
The Panthers faced 15 ranked teams this season among the 25 matches, picking up wins over No. 52 Georgia Tech and No. 67 ETSU. Of the 14 losses, 13 were to ranked opponents. After the 2013 spring-season successes, which included a Sun Belt Conference Championship and a first round match in the NCAA tournament, the Panthers bowed in the 2014 semi-finals of the Sun Belt Conference Championship. Winning the opening-round tournament match, after the team’s No. 1 player sustained a knee injury a week before, showed the young team’s heart and soul. Seven of the nine players are eligible to return next season.
The 2014 Panthers were ranked for 10 weeks in the spring season, starting off at No. 62 in mid-January. The season began with a pair of home wins, but after a pair of losses Jan. 25-26 at the ITA Kickoff Weekend to ranked teams in Los Angeles, Georgia State slipped out of the ITA rankings.
The Panthers reappeared at No. 68 in the ranking the week of Feb. 23 after picking up wins against No. 67 ETSU, Tennessee Tech and UAB. GSU faced a stretch of five-straight ranked opponents and picked up the three home wins at three different home venues.
In the Feb. 8 match against ETSU, the Panthers started the match by winning the doubles point. Freshman Jannis Koeke quickly dispatched Sabastian Yllera 6-0, 6-4 to make it 2-0. Losses at Nos. 1 and 4 singles made it 2-2. Senior Robert Schulze made it 3-2 with his straight set win at No. 2 singles. Georgia State then lost at No. 5 singles, leaving everything on the line at No. 6 singles. Sofiane Chevallier edged Roger Ordeig with his 6-5 (8-6), 6-2 win, giving the Panthers their first upset of the season.
The following week, Georgia State dropped to No. 73 before moving back up to No. 71 following the 4-0 win against No. 52 Georgia Tech. Following losses to New Mexico and Drake on March 15 and 16 to fall to 8-11, the Panthers would not reappear in the rankings.
On March 7, the Panthers would accomplish something for only the second time in program history. When the Panthers defeated Georgia Tech 4-0, it was just the second time in program history that Georgia State had defeated Georgia Tech. Georgia State won the doubles point and at Nos. 1, 2 and 6 singles positions on Tech’s home court.
Heading into the final weeks of the season, the Panthers had a few more obstacles to fight through. Head coach Joerg Barthel and assistant coach Cesar Vargas were dismissed by the school for NCAA and GSU secondary violations on March 31. Robin Stephenson, the women’s tennis interim head coach, stepped into the role of interim director of tennis. Assistant women’s tennis coach Kurt Clemmons and interim assistant coach Travis Rettenmaier stepped in to help with men’s coaching duties.
A final disappointing note came on April 4. Senior Thomas Cook, who had played at No. 1 singles all season, suffered a season-ending knee injury with three matches left in the regular season. That necessitated a complete line-up reshuffle.
Georgia State was awarded the No. 3 seed in the Sun Belt Conference Championship, behind No. 1 UL Lafayette (No. 62) and No. 2 South Alabama (No. 71). In the first round, the short-handed Panthers breezed past No. 6-seed Western Kentucky 4-0. In the semi-finals, the Panthers faced No. 2-seed South Alabama. Georgia State fell 4-0 and ended its season and bid to repeat with back-to-back Sun Belt Conference championships.
Freshman Jannis Koeke was named to the All-Sun Belt first-team singles and was the Sun Belt men’s tennis Player of the Week three times, more than any other men’s player this season. Koeke was 13-9 overall and 8-3 at No. 2 singles.
The Panthers will lose seniors Robert Schulze and Thomas Cook to graduation. Georgia State will return seven experienced and battle-tested players, including four who played in the starting line-up this season.