VALDOSTA — One for all, and all for one.
Sure, it’s corny, but who wouldn’t tolerate a cheesy phrase for a chance at a national championship?
The Valdosta State men’s tennis team, for one.
The Blazers have put together a perfect 16-0 season with two matches remaining on exactly that mantra.
“It sounds kind of simple, but its one for all and all for one,” Niko Overkemping said. “That’s what we see every time we go out.”
The Blazers will take to the VSU tennis courts playing for each other against Lynn Saturday and Rollins Sunday. Both games start at 10 a.m.
On the court, the Blazers are a force to be reckoned with, with the singles combining for an overall record of 68-9, and a doubles record of 79-22.
Off the court, the group forms one of the tightest units on campus, spending most of their time together.
VSU coach John Hansen said their friendship is the strongest aspect of one of the nation’s strongest teams.
“It’s an individual sport, but the support that each of these players gets from their teammates has just been amazing,” Hansen said. “They play together, they hang out together and they have great times together. It’s just a great atmosphere.”
The unit has come to such a close bond due to several reasons, including similar characteristics and enjoyments, and they have a cultural tie. The Blazers’ tennis team is made up of eight players from five different countries.
“Basically, European culture, even though we are from different countries, is closer than American culture,” Overkemping said. “So, you kind of experience the same stuff. It’s different and also interesting.”
Chris Boyd is the lone American. The rest of the team came from Europe. Mickael Andreo and Thomas Provost came to Valdosta from France, Dominik Hansen, Overkemping and Christoph Schneider are German, Michael Tang came from the United Kingdom and Leos Jelinek is from the Czech Republic.
“It’s kind of funny — most of our players are international players, and we just turned into a kind of melting pot,” Hansen said. “When they get here, maybe it’s because they don’t know anyone here, but they just kind of gathered together.”
The cultural change brings the guys together, including the classrooms, where the experienced players help the new ones with the language barrier.
There are no less than six Blazers sitting together sharing stories, tennis experiences, jokes or dinner every night. After two-to-three hours of practice, a friendly jog, a group trip to the rec center, it is group shopping, a card game or a nightly Playstation soccer tournament. Just friends enjoying friends for the nation’s No. 3-ranked squad.
“We all live together in the same apartment complex,” Overkemping said. “We’re all roommates. We share almost everything and everybody is helping each other out in school, on the court, whatever it is.”
“We are all friends,” Schneider said. “That’s probably the reason we are all so successful. No matter were we come from, it’s how the personalities fit together. It just fits.”
That bond of friendship implores each player to put in that extra effort. The effort can help push VSU to victories in matches such as last weekend’s 5-2 victory against USC Upstate. Down 2-1 after doubles, the Blazers rallied and fought back for their 16th consecutive victory.
“The individual characteristics is unbelievable as a team, the coaching staff and everything fits perfect right now,” Overkemping said.
The Blazers also believe that they have what it takes to win.
“We can win in every singles match and every doubles,” Schneider said. “We can win every match on the court. I think we have at least a 50-50 chance in every position in every match. It’s not very often that you have that. I don’t think any team has that in the country.”
Schneider knows a thing or two about winning, putting together an 8-3 record as the Blazers’ No. 1 player and ranking among the top five players in the nation. Schneider is also one of two current Blazers to reach nationals in 2004.
“Some of the guys went there to cheer on the girls (national semifinalists in 2005),” Schneider said. “And, they saw how nice nationals are, and what it’s about. That is more motivation for the guys to go there.”
That motivation has transferred to hard work, with the Blazers putting in the extra time.
“This is the hardest-working team that I ever had,” Hansen said. “They’re in much better shape than they’ve been in years.”
Following Thursday’s practice, the work didn’t stop. Players inquired about a jog. Overkemping stayed late to work with graduate assistant Roger Thiele.
“Right now we have one practicing three hours because he doesn’t feel good (with his game),” Schneider said, motioning to Overkemping. “They know what it’s all about. They know what we can achieve as a team.”
The Blazers are driven by last year’s upset loss in the regional finals.
“We actually lost in the region finals last year,” Hansen said. “It was the first in many years. It turned out that might be a good thing.”
The Blazers use the heartache of that loss and its experience, along with their hard work and uncommon bond, as motivation in every match, and it keeps their eye on the big picture.
“I think our team is good enough to beat everybody right now,” Schneider said. “And, I don’t think it matters if we lose or win this weekend, because our goal is to win every single match, but our goal is to win nationals.
“That’s our main goal.”
VALDOSTA — One for all, and all for one.
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