Três Amigos: Players Provide Cornerstone of Program
April 19, 2012
by Alexandra Ellis
"Team work" is not an idea generally associated with tennis.
Tim Siegel makes sure it is.
"That's the whole key to my job at first. Whether they're American or international, it does take time to get them to think `team first,'" he said.
"For these international guys, one of the only ways I can get the message across is to relay it to them like soccer. They're all big soccer fans, so I tell them in order to be successful; you have to be a team."
The three seniors will be recognized before the final regular season home match for the No. 22 Red Raiders on Saturday evening against the No. 17 Texas Longhorns at the McLeod Tennis Center.
"I've learned that tennis can be much more than an individual sport," said Garcia. "You stop playing for yourself when you're playing for a team, especially when you play for a team with these guys. You care much more how they're doing, how the team's doing. I think that's a big lesson I'm going to take with me for the rest of my life."
It will be an emotional match for Garcia.
"I'm already pretty sad," he said. "I'm excited to play, since it's against UT, but it's going to be sad. It's going to be tough to control the emotions a little bit after playing three years here, but it's coming to an end."
Garcia came to the South Plains from Brazil ranked as the No. 1 player in his native country for 12 and under, 14 and under, and 16 and under. In his three years at Tech, Garcia has been ranked in the top 25 in doubles with his former partner Carvalho. He has additionally been named to All-Big 12 singles and doubles, and Academic All-Big 12 first team.
The tradition and rivalries of Texas Tech in the Big 12 Conference were not lost on Garcia when he arrived in Lubbock in 2009.
"I was really excited when I decided to come to college," said Garcia. "Representing a school is a big thing. When you're representing a school the size of Tech, you're representing tons of people."
"When I came here, I knew nothing of the rivalries. But as soon as I got here, I figured out what was going on," he said with a smile.
Garcia will retain many fond memories of his years in Lubbock.
"I have plenty of good memories. When we beat OU last year, I had the match-winning point. When we beat Cal to go to the Sweet Sixteen last year indoors was great. This year, beating Baylor this year was special, and defeating Texas A&M here in front of the crowd was amazing."
Siegel will remember Garcia as a dependable player.
"Each year he's gotten better mentally. He's become `Mr. Clutch.' When we need that third or fourth point, he's the guy that comes through for us. He's played very well for us in doubles. This is his best year for us for sure," he said.
Escobar, an Ecuador native, began his career as the team's number 3 in his freshman year, and finishing as one of the most decorated players in the history of Texas Tech tennis.
Escobar finished his sophomore season ranked 39th in the country in singles, and was named to the All-Big 12 singles team. Named to the second team Academic All-Big 12, he finished the spring and fall combined seasons with an impressive record of 24-8 in singles, and 21-10 in doubles. He got his biggest win of his career as he upset No. 18 Ed Corrie of Texas.
His climb continued in his junior season, as he finished the year ranked 25th in the country in singles and 41st in the country in doubles, teaming Vitor Manzini.
"The first and second year was kind of weird, because I didn't ever think that having matches going on next to me would affect the way my match was developing," said Escobar. "But it helps you in becoming even more focused on your match."
"All we do here is for the team," he continued. "We come here to practice as a team. It's just 10 people wanting to achieve the same goal."
The biggest difference Escobar noted between his freshman and senior years was his maturity.
"I've matured since I've been here. I've grown up, and I think that it's affected my play. What I think has helped me mature is taking advantage of all the experiences in the four years, all the ups and downs."
Through the ups and downs, the memories of playing at Tech were not lost on Escobar.
"Beating Baylor was definitely one of my favorite memories. And winning the Blue Gray (National Tennis Classic) when I was a sophomore was very special," he said.
Siegel, in his 20th season as Texas Tech's head coach, looked at Escobar as a coach's player.
"He has turned into one of the best players in the country. He's somebody that can beat you in so many different ways, offensively, defensively. The one thing about Gonzalo that you want as a coach, is you want to know what you're going to get every day. You know what you're going to get out of him. He's been incredibly important for this team in the past four years," he said.
Brazilian-native Carvalho preferred the team work at Tech over the solo play in Brazil.
"I think playing here is better than playing by yourself in Brazil. It's different when you're playing for others, and they depend on you as much as you depend on them. It's great to see them yelling at you to fight and keep playing. It's special," he said.
Carvalho was the No. 1 tennis player in South America for the majority of his youth before his arrival in Lubbock.
He finished 12-4 in singles in his freshman season, advanced to the ITA Regional Championships, which was a round short of qualifying for the ITA National Indoor Championships. He also went a combined 6-2 against nationally ranked opponents in singles. During the spring, he was first ever Tech tennis player to be named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year.
His phenomenal sophomore and junior seasons were capped off with numerous All-Big 12 titles, including Academic All-Big 12.
"Ray came to Texas Tech as probably one of the most talented players to ever play at Tech," said Siegel. "He has learned over the past four years that it's more than talent to become a great college tennis player. Over the last few years, he has become more dedicated and more disciplined on and off the court, and I think that if nothing else, that will help him toward the future."
The head coach of the Red Raiders was overwhelmed by what his three seniors have done for the program.
"All three of these guys have done tremendous things for this program," Siegel said.
"There's three things -- you are playing for your teammates, you are playing for your school and you are playing for your coach. As a coach, I appreciate what they've done for me, what they've done for the program, because hopefully in the years to come, we will talk about these three seniors. They've handled themselves well, and represented Texas Tech very well, which is important to me."
Siegel and his team know that the end of the Texas match is only the beginning.
"The season doesn't end until the ending of May, including individuals. We have a lot of work to do. We lost to Oklahoma and lost a chance to win the conference, but we have a lot to play for. Beating Texas would give us the No. 2 seed and a bye in the conference tournament. We can still make this a very, very special season. Being ranked 22nd in the country is nice, but what's important to me is how we finish in the NCAAs, and they understand that. All three of them have been to the second round of the NCAAs. This year, we want to do better than that."
Texas Tech will honor these three seniors on Saturday night, as Texas Tech hosts No. 17 Texas at 6 p.m. at the McLeod Tennis Center. Admission is free and the first 100 fans receive a free t-shirt. There will also be free food and giveaways at the event.