VandyMania Interview: Ken Flach

They are the SEC Tournament Champions.  They have the #1 collegiate player in the country.  They have dedication and commitment and maybe, just maybe, something even more special.  You can understand why Ken Flach, the coach of the Vanderbilt men's tennis team, is so proud of his team.  It's been a long, hard uphill climb for this talented group of young men and their coach. 

The last six years has seen the Commodores dwell in the basement of the SEC, but this year has been a classic worst to first story.  Ken Flach is the glue that brought the team together and made them champions.

There is no question that Coach Flach has seen rough times at Vanderbilt, even thinking of resigning his position, but in the end he believed in this school, this athletic department and his players. And the accolades just keep coming in, hopefully with more to follow. 

Last year Vanderbilt finished last in the SEC, but as coach Flach pointed out to me, they lost many matches 4-3 and were in those contests right up until the end.  Through will, desire and determination this team matured and developed into a powerhouse.  When I asked coach Flach why, he simply said commitment and maturity.  Last year's tough losses brought the players closer together, and as a young team they learned that they could play with anyone. At the end of last year came a fork in the road.  Which path would they choose?

Flach put it to the team in simple terms: either coast and never be very special, or double your efforts and work harder than you have ever worked in your life.  The results make it clear which course the team took.  In the summer two players stayed and worked on their games because for the team to get better, they had to get better.  These two players, Zach Dailey and Lew Smith, are the No. 5 and 6 players respectively on the team and play together as the third doubles team.  They don't get a lot of press, but their wins throughout the year have assured the Dores this championship season.

They gutted it out all summer long in the heat, working on conditioning and skills on the court to make them more effective.  Their effort and wins have helped to remove some pressure from the top players, because now there is room for error if someone has an off day. 

Coach Flach is very proud of these guys for their commitment.  It is the team effort from all the players, whether cheering on teammates or winning when the chips were down, that has now made Vanderbilt a powerhouse and legitimate contender for the NCAA title.  "This is a remarkable team, when you consider the incredible expectations placed on this team before the SEC Tournament," said Flach. "We were the second seed, we had never been there before, and we held our seed and then beat Florida, the No. 1 seed. That proved to us that we could play and beat anyone. If we can do that, we can do anything."

Another thing that helped this team was focus: one match at a time.  Before this season, no goals were set, no predictions made, just a promise to work as hard as possible and push oneself to the absloute limit.  Every player took this to heart, and used self-dicipline to improve.

Considering the team can only play (in either matches or in practice) 20 hours a week, self-discipline is key.  It has been the self-discipline that has lifted players like Booby Reynolds to the No. 1 ranking in collegiate tennis, and teammate Chad Harris to a No. 9 ranking, making Vanderbilt's one-two punch more dangerous than a heavyweight boxer's knockout blows.

Rounding out the team are No. 3 player Matt Lockin-- a transfer from Michigan who has added stability at the third slot-- and Scott Brown, who has been a consistent winner throughout the year, with little or no fanfare.  That's what this team is all about, TEAM.  It doesn't matter how the job gets done, just that it's done.

This weekend, Vanderbilt hosts its first men's NCAA regional.  The teams are to be announced Wednesday, April 30.  There are 16 regionals, with the winners of each region going to the NCAA Championships at the University of Georgia.

The matches at the Curry Tennis center are set for Saturday and Sunday, May 11-12.  The cost is $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for kids. 

The official lineup will look like this for Vandy:

#1 Bobby Reynolds
#2 Chad Harris
#3 Matt Lockin
#4 Scott Brown
#5 Zach Dailey
#6 Lew Smith

#1 Reynolds & Brown
#2 Harris & Lockin
#3 Dailey and Smith

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