Men’s tennis feels international presence

by Marlene T. Allen
Staff Writer

If a team cannot seem to catch the “winning train” as it rolls its way, then it can just enjoy itself waiting for a ride. That is the attitude of the Univer­sity of La Verne men’s tennis team.

As a team, it has lost every tennis match it has competed in this year-13 in all. With such a record, it would seem there are not many smiling faces on the men’s tennis team.

It would also seem the team is counting the day when the last backhand, forehand, fault and double fault would be recorded and ac­counted for. Not so at La Verne.

The men’s tennis team has given new meaning to the phrase “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” In fact it could be their motto. That doesn’t mean the tennis team at ULV doesn’t try to win, it’s just that it hasn’t.

“They are an interesting group of people,” said tennis coach Dr. Reed Gratz, with an appreciative laugh.

The 10-man team is made up most­ly of international students: Junior Ar­man Hilario from Lagos, Nigeria; junior Niki Deravedissian from the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean, junior Mourad Hartounian from Beirut, Lebanon; freshman Jirair Kelekian also from Lebanon; freshman Sarkis Pola­dian of Syria; sophomore Junie Her­nandez from the Philippines, senior Paul Moseley from Seattle, sophomore George Szkiba from Pasadena, junior Donny Messamer from San Jose, and Donny Flora from Covina.

All have enjoyed the competitiveness of the Division III Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) teams they played this year.

It hasn’t been all bad for the tennis team. It had close, but losing, matches against Whittier College and Caltech, and the team came within one shot of beating North West Nazerene University.

One of the things that has made the tennis team interesting is its interna­tional makeup.

“With the players coming from all different countries, it has been an in­credible experience for the team,” said Dr. Gratz. ”The language and cultures of the different countries has brought an incredible amount of information to the members of the team.”

Tennis is more of an individual sport though teams are also formed. Because individual play of the player is more closely analyzed than that of the entire team, it is important that a team adopt the right attitude when playing a match.

“Level of play doesn’t have a lot to do with gaining respect from other coaches and players,” Dr. Gratz said. “It depends on how the player ap­proaches the match. If he’s into the match from beginning to end, he can earn a lot of respect from the other coaches and players.

“In tennis, there’s more to it than just the score. It’s not like football or other sports where there’s a stigma of ‘manhood’ attached to it,” said Dr. Gratz.

“It’s not traditionally macho. You don’t have to carry it around with you if you lose. People play right through no matter what the score. That’s the type of game tennis is.”

With the diverse backgrounds of the players, the personality of the team is the true star.

“Arman (Hilario) is kind of the enter­tainer of the group. He brings his camera to every match and takes pictures of people eating lunch or something, trying to catch them in an embarrassing moment.

“Niki (Deravedissian) and Mourad (Haroutounian) fight over the Lakers and the Celtics so I made them doubles partners. Arman and Junie speak in their native language so they talk out loud instead of using hand signals during doubles match. We don’t worry about other coaches steal­ ing our plays,” Dr. Gratz joked.

“Donny Flora, the only local guy, has had a kind of minimal involvement because he’s also on the volleyball team,” Dr. Gratz continued. “Paul has been out with a shoulder injury and hasn’t played as much as he would have liked.”

The talent on the team is well balanced and there is no No. 1 player on the team, Dr. Gratz  said. He is pleased with the improvement of the team over last year and anticipates even more improvement.

“Everyone is No. 1 on the team. There’s not one player who dominates.

“There ‘s no comparison with this team to the team last year. They’re much better now,” said Dr. Gratz, now in his third consecutive year as coach.

Many of the players this year will return next year and with the incoming freshman class, the tennis team can only hope to get better.

“If everyone comes back we’ll have at least 12 guys out next year. We’re growing,” Dr. Gratz noted. “This sport takes a long time before you can compete with the conference schools.”

Having the support of the school has also helped, Dr. Gratz said.

“Other coaches know the situation at La Verne and they probably have minimal respect for us. They see the growth. One coach who has watched Arman told me he wished he had a personality like that on his team,” Dr. Gratz said. ”The Redlands coach said, ‘I wouldn’t mind trading teams with you, to have fun.’ Though, it wouldn’t be bad to have a win once in a while, either.”

Said Gratz, “We may not win many matches, but we sure entertain the other team.”

Marlene T. Allen

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