HIALEAH, FL – For some tennis programs, having its women’s team finish No. 3 at the national tournament and its men’s team take home the national runner-up trophy in the same year would be a huge success.
For ASA College-Miami head tennis coach Brian Slack, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
The process of getting that sour taste out of his mouth begins Tuesday when ASA men and women tennis teams open practice for the 2018-19 season.
Slack’s disappointment was rooted in the fact that he had led the Sliver Storm men to back-to-back national championships in 2016 and 2017 along with guiding the women to a national crown in 2016 and a national runner-up spot in 2017. That coming on the heels of having led ASA College-New York men’s and women’s teams both to back-to-back national titles in 2014 and 2015.
“The way things went this past season left a very sour taste in my mouth,” Slack said squirming in his seat when asked about the 2018 season.
“On the men’s side, to fall short of having teams coached by me win five straight national titles left a sour taste. We had the opportunities on the final day, we knew what we needed to do to win a national championship, and we just fell short – and that’s on me.”
“And on the women’s side, it was the lowest finish I’ve ever had. [2017-18] was a really down year in recruiting women – across the board, from division-I all the way down. It was difficult to find girls that wanted to play college tennis. We worked with what we had…it was impressive what we did considering we didn’t have the depth that we’re accustomed to.”
“So, we had to rebuild and get back to what ASA is accustomed to doing because the goal is national championships,” Slack added.
If the ASA women are going to get back to the mountaintop of NJCAA tennis, it will have to do it with an entirely new roster.
As junior colleges are meant to do, ASA Miami graduated all of its women players – giving Slack a clean slate to build a championship roster.
As he’s done in the past, Slack recruited internationally – bringing in multiple players from Europe and Asia to advance their academic and athletic careers at ASA College.
Molly Helgesson (from Sweden), Soomin Kim (from South Korea), and Lingwei Kong (from China) are expected to be three of the Lady Silver Storm’s top players this season.
Having a roster full of newbies might leave some coaches wringing their hands, but Slack isn’t worried about it at all.
“It is different…there are girls on this team from countries that I’ve never had girls from before,” Slack said.
“But it also shoots some adrenaline into my system because I get to teach again…the last time I had an all-freshman class was 2014 and my girls team won every single flight at the national championships. Knowing the kind of success I’ve had with a team full of freshmen before and knowing how talented we are – on paper – right now, it’s exciting. It’s something to look forward to.”
While it’s a completely new group on the women’s side, the men’s team has a handful of holdovers from the 2017-18 season to go along with a crop of talented newcomers.
Sergio Ingles, Tomas Santantonio and Andres Cabezas are among the returning players.
Santantonio and Cabezas were 2018 NJCAA second-team All-Americans as singles players this past season and Ingles received the same honor playing doubles.
To bolster the men’s roster, Slack crossed international waters again.
His biggest “get” might be bringing in Toru Horie from Japan. Horie was ranked the No. 21 junior tennis player in the world in 2018 and reached the doubles finals at the U.S. Open Juniors tournament.
He also added Eladio “Lalo” Fabergas, a Spaniard and transfer from Southern Methodist University (SMU).
“Horie’s resume is just ridiculous. He’s accomplished a lot already and is a very talented player. And with Lalo playing at the D-I level last year, you know he has the talent to come in and be a leader in our program,” Slack said.
Having so many talented players is a good problem to have, and Slack’s way of building chemistry is through competition.
“It’s going to be tough,” said about finding the right mix of players.
“The returners have put in a lot of work this summer. They’ve been on the court a lot pushing each other. They also know that there’s an influx of talented new guys that are coming in eager.”
“I’ve told them that no one’s spot is safe…any spot is up for grabs. Whoever has the hot hand is going to play because we’re trying to win a national championship,” Slack said.
The road to the national championship tournaments, which will be held in Tyler, Texas (May 5-10, 2019) on the women’s side and in Tucson, Arizona (May 13-17, 2019) on the men’s side, starts with a handful of fall tournaments for the Silver Storm.
Both the men and women will participate in the Sailfish Tennis Fall Invitational (September 14-16), the Fall ITA Tournament (Sept. 21-23), the NAIA/JuCo Bedford Cup (October 19-21), and the Juan Varon Memorial Invitational (Oct. 26-28) in anticipation for team matches after the New Year.
Success this season though, will only be measured one way – championships.
“It’s national championship or bust,” Slack said. “It always is.”