Travel has been a big part of Eliot Potvin’s existence since the Hampden native decided tennis was the sport for him.
“I remember getting out of school on a Friday afternoon and then mom and I driving down to Nashua, New Hampshire, for junior tournaments,” said the Hampden native. “Sometimes I’d lose in the first round and we’d turn around and drive home the same night, but she’d always say ‘we’ll get ’em next weekend.’ “
Now at age 20, Potvin still does plenty of traveling to satisfy his tennis cravings, but the mode of transportation is faster and the competition is much stronger.
Potvin, now a junior at Georgia Tech who plays third singles and second doubles for the nationally ranked Yellow Jackets, spent Friday flying with his teammates from their Atlanta campus to Tobacco Road for weekend matches at Duke and North Carolina.
Next weekend brings home matches against Virginia and Virginia Tech, leading up to the Atlantic Coast Conference championships at Cary, N.C., April 22-25 and then what the college tennis world might describe as May Madness, the NCAA Division I championships.
Whether Georgia Tech wins the automatic berth that comes with the ACC tournament championship or not, the Yellow Jackets are in strong position to qualify for the NCAAs after just missing the 64-team field a year ago.
Potvin’s play is a big reason why. The 5-foot-11, 181-pound righthander is 14-6 in dual meet singles play this spring for a Georgia Tech team that is 15-5 overall, 6-3 in conference play.
Potvin and classmate Ryan King also are 7-0 since being paired in doubles while helping the Yellow Jackets rise to 24th in the most recent national rankings and among the upper echelon of the ACC — arguably the top Division I tennis league in the nation with seven teams ranked in the top 25.
“I feel pretty good about where I’m at,” said Potvin, who is majoring in history technology in society. “I’ve improved quite a bit since getting to college, and as I’ve matured as a person there’s also more maturity in my game on the court, and as a result I’ve been getting some good results.”
Potvin dominated the Maine high school tennis scene during three years as the No. 1 seed at Hampden Academy. He compiled a 64-1 overall record while placing second in the state singles tournament as a freshman and then winning back-to-back state titles without losing a set in 2005 and 2006.
“The biggest thing is you’ve got to be dedicated to it,” said Potvin. “A lot of times you have to go out there on your own and just put the work in.
“I remember how fortunate I was to be able to hit with the ball machine at Bangor Tennis, and how Dean Armstrong [the former Orono High coach who runs Bangor Tennis] was such a huge help in letting me go in at late hours and get some extra practice in.”
Potvin opted to train at a private facility in Massachusetts as a high school senior, and his play in regional and national tournaments earned him a top-40 junior ranking nationally and numerous college offers before he decided to accept a scholarship offer from Georgia Tech coach Kenny Thorne.
Since then, Potvin and the Yellow Jackets have grown together, and while inexperienced Georgia Tech teams endured some growing pains during his first two years on campus, the collective development of a junior-laden 2010 squad — including top seed Guillermo Gomez, ranked fourth nationally in singles — is producing the program’s best record in the last six years .
“We’re a lot better now up and down the lineup,” said Potvin. “We’ve got five juniors who all came in at the same time and now have played three years together to go with some good young guys, and we’ve all stayed healthy and everybody works hard, which makes everything easier.”
Increased strength, fairly good health and the quality of competition — ACC rival Virginia is the No. 1 team in the nation — all have helped Potvin develop an individual style much more aggressive than during his high school days, when he typically overwhelmed opponents with his ground strokes.
He has had to deal with a cantankerous ankle this spring, but that’s been more than offset by increased leg strength he’s gained through weight training since arriving on the Georgia Tech campus.
“It’s definitely been a big part of my improvement,” he said. “I’m a lot more of an attacking player now, and the strength helps me move players around the court and then get into the net to put points away.”
Potvin said his singles play also has benefited from playing doubles, something he rarely did during high school.
“A big goal I had this year was to improve my doubles game,” he said. “I feel like my game now is more suited to doubles, and I think it’s helped my singles, too. Playing doubles has made my volleying better, I’m more comfortable coming into the net, and it’s made my return of service better.”
Potvin’s continued development on the collegiate level has enabled him to maintain the same long-term goal he had long before he left his hometown to become one of the rare Maine-born tennis players to compete at the major college level.
“I do want to want to play after college,” he said. “I plan to try the circuit and see how it goes.
“But right now I just have the goal to be the best I can be, and the great thing is that all the guys here feel the same way and that’s why we’re doing well.”