Elected officials might not see eye-to-eye on the right path to global understanding, but East Carolina’s mini-United Nations, AKA the men’s tennis team, has achieved enough strength in unity to put together a 4-0 record to open its dual meet season.
Always one of the most globally diverse Pirate squads, the 2019 version of Coach Shawn Heinchon’s team features eight players from eight different nations — the United States, Romania, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, England, Portugal and Spain. It’s an unusual dynamic, Heinchon said, because typically players from one country help bring others over, so the roster usually has small groups from the same place.
But this is shaping up to be a unique season for a variety of reasons — the eclectic international mix of the roster, the team’s early and sometimes dramatic success, the leadership and experience of four seniors and the poise of the team’s two freshmen.
There’s a lot of tennis left, with matches stretching into mid-April, but Heinchon is hoping for a final year that will complete the seniors’ four-year reclamation project.
“Their freshman year, we were terrible, and they will tell you we were terrible, and to their credit, we got a little better when they were sophomores,” he said. “We got a lot better when they were juniors, and it remains to be seen what will happen when they’re seniors. You need to take a look at that four-year window and their body of work. Knock on wood, the rest of their story will go well.”
With consecutive dual match victories over James Madison, The Citadel, Navy and Mount St. Mary’s behind them, the Pirates have four home contests coming up at their indoor facility at Next Level Training Center. For the winning streak to extend, the coaching staff needs to keep tinkering with the doubles pairings and make sure the right players are playing in the right slots on the singles lineup.
Finding the right doubles chemistry is one of the most challenging tasks for a team tennis coach, he said, requiring trial and error to find the three pairs with the best chance for victory.
“It’s been a little bit of an Achilles heel so far,” Heinchon said. “We’re trying to match up playing styles, we’re trying to match up personalities. The trick is getting three good combinations, and we can only make that call match to match.”
One of the most pleasant surprises so far has been freshman Diogo Marques from Setubal, Portugal, who has an overall record of 13-6 and has worked his way up to the Pirates’ top singles spot.
The other freshman player, Simon Labbe, from Quebec, Canada, provided one of the most dramatic triumphs of the winter so far when he won in his first collegiate dual match to break a 3-3 tie. The nature of the singles schedule meant that Labbe and his opponent, William Kapinski, were playing alone with the match on the line.
This weekend, with George Mason coming to Greenville on Friday at 2:30 p.m. and UNC-Asheville on Sunday at noon, will provide the first of two weekend opportunities for fans to watch the tennis Pirates in the warmth of their indoor facility. Home crowds are often better for the indoor matches, Heinchon said, and those who show up will see a team of focused players looking to turn a small winning streak into something that will far outlast the four seniors on the squad.
“Individually we’re extremely fortunate with highly motivated, driven individuals,” Heinchon said. “We’re in the business of making sure we were pushing one another, and they were great about it from day one.”