Sports Contact: J.T. Wilcox, Sports Information Director
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 10, 2019
HIALEAH, FL – When you look at the rosters for ASA Miami's women's and men's tennis teams, there's one stark contrast between the two that jumps out at you.
Aside from gender, you'll see the Lady Silver Storm team is made up wholly of freshmen while the men's team has 10 sophomores sprinkled amongst its full list of student-athletes.
While the women's team is made up of collegiate tennis newbies, the talented group flexed its collective muscle and took home the NJCAA Division-I National Championship this past Thursday in Tyler, Texas – a feat that the more experienced men's team hopes to accomplish this coming week (May 13-17) when it travels to Tucson, Arizona for the men's national tourney at the Reffkin Tennis Center.
ASA Miami head coach Brian Slack, who now has won nine national championships during his coaching career since the Silver Storm women won the 2019 title, said that the experience of his men's team will be a huge factor in them possibly bringing home the first-place hardware.
"It's huge," Slack quipped when asked about the importance of having a more sophomore-laden team heading into nationals.
"It's bigger on the men's side than it ever is on the women's side because on the women's side you can get by on talent. On the men's side, you need sophomores. The top three teams in the country – Tyler [Junior College], us, and Seward [County Community College] – all are loaded with sophomores in big spots."
"Sophomores on the guys' side is so important," Slack reiterated.
Most of Slack's sophomores have two years of college tennis under their respective belts and some have the experience of performing on the national championship stage. The Silver Storm finished as the national runners-up in 2018 behind Tyler Junior College – a fact that hasn't set well with Slack or his returning players. Fueled by their "failure" of coming in second, the Silver Storm have once again shown themselves to be one of the top teams in the country – earning a No. 2 national ranking in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings.
Because a lot of his guys have gone through those national tournament rigors before, Slack said his team has had a different look about them all season.
"It's been a big thing because these guys have been in the moment of the national championship before," Slack said. "They know when [nationals] are looming – so they know how to go through the season gearing up for the national tournament. You can see them really lock into the moment because they understand that the level of everything is about to jump up and they know that the end is near."
ASA Miami finished its regular season 9-2 this year. The Silver Storm's two losses each came by a single point – falling to Georgia Gwinnett College (4-3) and losing 5-4 to Tyler JuCo back in March.
"I don't put stress on the match when we go play Tyler and those schools because the kids know how important it is," Slack said. "It's all about seeding. I tell them that I don't care about the [team] rankings, I care about the seeding when it comes to the national tournaments."
They rebounded following the Tyler loss, winning their next three matches – at Lynn University, at Eastern Florida State College, and at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Unfortunately, there's no regional NJCAA tournament for men's tennis in Florida like there is on the women's side, so the Silver Storm men have had to use practices as de facto competitive matches.
The other benefit of having a substantial group of sophomore means that that they "know the ropes" of Slack's structure for the program and can cultivate it as well as self-enforce it amongst the younger players – which Slack has seen this season.
"It's exciting and it's the fun part. They joke around a lot together but they know when to be serious and lock in," Slack said. "This team has done a much better job than previous years and winning has been the main focus of the group all year. They've been being locked in, they're treating practice like matches – being upset when you're losing to a teammate because you want to get better and don't want to let your level drop off.
"Having the road trips in the fall and playing the fall tournaments is big. The Pensacola trip is really a big one in its where you see everyone really start to gel. It really helps them transition in getting ready for the national tournament but it also where you get to see the friendships evolve," Slack added.
"Putting yourself on a 12 to 15 passenger van, where you have to get cozy next to someone that maybe you didn't know before…and the guys and girls know you're not allowed to have cell phones at the dinner table, no cell phones when we're at matches. You have to talk to somebody, so they talk to each other and really get to know who each other are."
While all the team dinners and the inside jokes are at the core of college athletics, it also comes down to winning. Winning this week in Tucson would mean redemption for the ASA sophomores and it would also mean the 10th championship for Slack.
Easily the most decorated and most winningest coach in ASA College-Miami history, Slack has set the standard for junior college tennis success – not only boasting nearly two-hands full of championship rings but also having a seemingly endless list of student-athletes that have gone on to other four-year schools and group that has gone on to have success as professional players.
But it all starts with the way he runs his program. And a part of that is setting a goal early on and grinding until it's attained.
"After you get it the first time, you want it every year," Slack said of his attitude about winning championships. "I learned the best after my second year [at ASA Miami] when we won back to back for the second time on both sides, how calm to be the weeks, the days, leading up to the tournaments. You don't stress it, you don't talk about it. We talk about it at the beginning of the season, talk about it some in the fall, set the tone for the newcomers, and then we don't discuss a whole lot."
At the end of the day, though, it's all about the kids.
"I want the kids to compete at the highest level, I want them to be happy, be stress-free, play the best they can," Slack began.
"Because there are going to be college coaches there as well. I've been contacted by 10 college coaches leading up to nationals telling me, 'we'll see you at nationals'. So, it's about making sure the kids are prepared for those moments, but they want to win."