MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. - The Georgia College & State University men's tennis team takes to the court this weekend, and Bobcat fans can use this article as an inside look to the spring 2010 version of one of the most decorated programs in school history.
2009 was arguably the best season in Georgia College men's tennis history, and 10th year head coach Steve Barsby has the hardware to show it. The Bobcats brought home their first Peach Belt Conference (PBC) Championship, and Barsby was selected the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Division II Men's Coach of the Year as well as PBC Men's Coach of the Year.
The 2010 group will rely on experience, as five players return that saw time in the starting lineup for Georgia College a year ago.
"We're possibly deeper than we've ever been in my time here," said Barsby. "We may not have that marquee-type guy, but we're going to win a lot of matches based on our depth."
Three seniors who have seen plenty of victories in their three seasons return for their final year in Bobcat blue and green. Max Beliankou (Minsk, Belarus), Joao Casagrande (Sao Paulo, Brazil) and Giovane Nucci (Santa Catarina, Brazil) all been starting and winning key matches since first stepping on the Georgia College campus three years ago.
"Max forces his opponents to make mistakes," said Barsby. "His will to win is unmatched. He is fundamentally strong and has a motor that won't quit." Beliankou went 15-4 last year competing mainly at fourth singles, and may have to move up a slot or two. He had the team's biggest victory a year ago, edging Armstrong Atlantic State University's No. 21 Tim Johanssen in a three-set marathon. The victory gave the Bobcats a 5-4 win, and just enough space in front of the Pirates to pick up GCSU's first PBC title.
Casagrande is a big hitter with plenty of experience. He went 5-7 overall with a 3-2 mark in conference matches in 2009. Casagrande will continue to pick up wins at the bottom portion of the order.
Nucci was 6-4 in 2009, and the lefty gives opponents a different matchup. He competed in the fifth slot. "Nucci is obviously a talented tennis player," said Barsby. "He's battled injuries in his time here, but when he's in the lineup, he's a competitor."
Leo Bernardes (Sao Paulo, Brazil) got plenty of action as a rookie in 2009 at the fourth, fifth and sixth slots, and will continue to play in the bottom third this season. Bernardes was 7-6 a year ago, and had a solid fall including singles and doubles titles at the Windstream/GCSU Men's Fall Championships.
One of two players from the Peach State, Bobby Angelucci (Acworth, Ga.) is also coming off singles and doubles titles at the Windstream tournament in the fall. Angelucci went 4-1 last season, including a pair of conference wins.
Jerome Lebornge (Coordimanche, France) joined the team in the fall and will have sophomore eligibility status. He had an impressive spring winning Flight ‘2' singles at the Chick-Fil-A Championships, and will give the Bobcats chances for wins at the top of the lineup.
Three talented newcomers are featured on the 2010 roster, all looking to crack the top six.
Joining the team in the spring semester were Wictor Andersson (Karlskoga, Sweden), Johan Wadstein (Helsingborg, Sweden) and Tyler Franks (Eatonton, Ga.). Andersson sports a very strong fundamental game, while Wadstein is a bit more flashy, playing aggressively and trying to utilize the entire court to his advantage. Wadstein finished third at the under-18 nationals in Sweden. Both men will factor in near the top of the lineup. Franks, another Georgia player, has "been quite impressive in the early spring" according to Barsby, and will get a definite shot at a starting spot near the bottom of the lineup.
The Bobcats start the season Saturday, Feb. 6 at 1 p.m., playing host to Morehouse College at the Centennial Center Tennis Facility.
The GCSU Department of Athletics, winners of the 2008-09 PBC Commissioner's Cup, sponsors 10 varsity athletic programs at the NCAA Division II level. As a Division II program, GCSU prides itself on balancing the life of the student-athlete, evidenced by the Bobcats' multiple appearances in post-season competition as well as documented academic success and community-service involvement. Sign up at Twitter.com username GCSUSID for up-to-the-minute reports, and visit www.GCSUBobcats.com to nominate your favorite former Bobcats and Colonials to the GCSU Athletics Hall of Fame.