Men's Tennis Spoils Hipp's Return

Men's Tennis Spoils Hipp's Return
Former Bucs assistant coach Thomas Hipp stood side-by-side with Barry head coach George Samuel through two NCAA Championships. Photo by Jim McCurdy

MIAMI SHORES, Fla. -- Barry University's No. 1-ranked men's tennis team beat Flagler, 5-0, in a rain-shortened match Saturday, spoiling the return of former Buccaneer All-American and assistant coach Thomas Hipp. The win bumped Barry's record to 3-0 in this first week of the season.

Hipp, who was an assistant on two teams who captured NCAA Championships, including last season's 29-0 campaign of perfection, left Barry in the summer to accept the head coaching position at Flagler.

"It feels kind of weird that I was coaching them for so long, always wishing them the best to win, and it's strange now to go against them," Hipp said, donning his Flagler bright orange. "Sometimes when we're playing close points, it's almost like I want to scream for both teams. I will slip sometimes that I'm screaming the wrong name, so it's kind of weird, but it's always nice to come back and see the guys play. I appreciate them very much."

Barry swept the doubles in challenging matches throughout. No. 14-ranked Fabian Groetsch and Ahmed Triki beat Flagler's Jose Martinez and Bruno Padilha, 8-4, at the top spot. Romain Costamagna and Leo Vivas were 8-5 winners over Inigo Landaluce and Fabio Ferrauti at No. 2. Ollie Lemaitre and Kevin Sielmann outlasted Uriel Oquendo and David Espinosa, 8-6, at No. 3.

Then after the Bucs got up a set in all six singles matches, dark clouds rolled in, almost enveloping the skies above Buccaneer Tennis Center's esteemed courts. Bucs coach George Samuel, who's witnessed a lot of tennis with the Barry program over the past quarter century, feared the match might not be completed.

But sophomore Eduardo Alfonzo did his part in wrapping up a 6-2, 6-0 No. 6 singles win over Padilha for the fourth team point. Then just as light rain drops started to make their way towards the courts from the south, moving north, the 41st-ranked Sielmann hit a passing shot by Oquendo to secure his No. 4 singles flight, 6-1, 6-1, and wrap up the team's clinching fifth point just before the rain set in more.

Groetsch, the 12th-ranked singles player in the country, was up a set on Martinez, who entered with a No. 42 ranking. Costamagna won a first set tiebreaker over Landaluce, 7-6 (3) and was leading by two games at No. 2. Nico Dreer was within a game of putting his match in the books with Ferrauti at No. 3, and Lombardi had a 6-2, 4-3 lead on Brant Switzler at No. 5.

Yet much of the day belonged to the return of the Bucs respected and revered assistant who help set the standards for one of the better NCAA Division II programs in the country.

"Thomas was always the one talking to me through the entire recruiting process," Costamagna said. "I will always remember him for what he did for me and helping me to get to Barry."

As will Samuel, who obliged his former player and assistant by squeezing Hipp's new team onto the schedule during a packed first week of college tennis.

"I'm hoping we can always play every year, maybe they'll come to me next year, and yeah, let's keep it up that way," Hipp said of maintaining his ties to Barry, even in friendly competition.

Of course, nostalgia played a part in this day for Hipp, who planned to stay another night at his second home in the Miami area before heading back to St. Augustine Sunday.

"It's quite emotional," Hipp said. "They were undefeated or we were undefeated, and they're playing still very well. I think they have a very good chance this year to repeat. They just have to know now how to make it work, and my players they're looking at the record, 'Oh, they're 29-0,' so they had a lot of respect. I was trying to tell them, 'Hey, just play as hard as you can, and maybe there's a chance we can win a few matches here.

"I will always keep Barry in a special place in my heart. I was a player, I was coaching here for so many years, I had some success as a player and a coach, so I will never forget those memories, and I will always have Barry as a special place in my heart."