By William Qualkinbush
CLEMSON — There is a certain switch that flips around the start of postseason play. Successful teams recognize that new goals have replaced the ones they have already met, and struggling teams realize that a second chance to define themselves has arrived.
For teams like the Clemson men’s tennis squad, which finds itself squarely in the middle of the ACC hierarchy, navigating the two extremes can be challenging. Head Coach Chuck McCuen believes that as long as he keeps everything focused on the next game, good things will come in what he terms is a “new season” for his team.
“Tournament time is so fun for me and for the guys because anything can happen,” he said. “We certainly won’t let our guard down because that was a really close battle once again.”
Sunday’s close 4-3 loss to N.C. State in Raleigh locked the Tigers into the seventh seed in the ACC heading into this week’s conference
tournament in Cary, N.C. McCuen’s team is familiar with its first round opponent, Wake Forest, having bested the Demon Deacons 4-3 on Friday.
Despite having only one senior, McCuen is confident that his team’s relative inexperience will not make the ACC Tournament an overwhelming circumstance. He set up the slate of games to be grueling in order to make sure that his team got as much exposure to talent and pressure as possible in the regular season.
“If you look at our schedule, all of it was by design,” McCuen said. “I think it’s one of the toughest schedules in the whole country. There’s nothing this team has not seen as far as level of play or competition or adversity. I think we’re ready. I think we’ve done what we can do.”
There is also a sense within the program that things are about to turn the Tigers’ way. A slew of close losses—five of Clemson’s defeats have come by a score of 4-3—give McCuen and his players the impression that improvement may be only a break or two away.
“We’ve got the talent,” he said. “We wouldn’t be playing all of these teams this closely all the time if that weren’t true. I think it’s a culture thing. You have to win a few of these tough fights to gain that little bit of confidence in order to do it better the next time out.”
The self-belief that exists within the Clemson men’s tennis program is another reason to think that the Tigers will not go down without a fight at the conference tournament. As the seventh seed, they are far from the favorite going into play.
But as McCuen always says, anything can happen once the postseason begins.
“They think we can do it,” the coach said of his players. “They think we can go in and beat a good Wake Forest team in the first round and go from there. They’re sort of excited about that. I think they see the path we’ve taken, how hard they’ve worked, and how close we are to being a great team.”