The roster also lists players from such locales as Serbia, South Africa, Colombia, Spain, Georgia and Florida.
But given its latitude, its climate and lack of history in producing major-college standouts in the sport, perhaps the unlikeliest hometown for a member of the Georgia Tech men’s tennis team is Hampden, Maine, from where Eliot Potvin has emerged as a key singles and doubles player for the nationally ranked Yellow Jackets.
“We always give Eliot a hard time about it,” said teammate Ryan Smith. “We’re always telling him he must be from Canada because it’s so far north.”
Potvin is a four-year starter and one of five seniors on a nine-member Georgia Tech squad that is 18th in the NCAA Division I rankings heading into its final home regular-season meets of the spring against No. 11 Duke on Friday and No. 17 North Carolina on Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets are 15-2 overall, 6-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference play entering those matches, and victories over the Blue Devils and Tarheels would be a major step toward helping coach Kenny Thorne’s team achieve one of its primary goals.
“We’re really shooting to be in the top 16 in the country after the ACC tournament because that would get us to host an [NCAA] regional,” said Potvin. “It’s a big advantage to have that qualifier on your home court.”
A berth in the NCAAs would mark the second straight year Potvin and Georgia Tech has qualified for the 64-team field. Last spring Georgia Tech was seeded second for a regional hosted by the University of Kentucky and defeated Binghamton in the first round before falling 4-1 to Kentucky with Potvin earning his team’s lone victory at third singles.
Potvin is 11-5 overall as a singles player so far this spring, including 5-2 in ACC matches while playing mostly as the team’s fourth seed.
“He was nationally ranked as a junior before he came here, so we were happy to get him,” said Thorne, Georgia Tech’s 13th-year head coach and a former pro tennis player with career victories over Richard Krajicek, Wayne Ferriera, Mark Philippoussis and Todd Martin. “I thought he was one of those guys who had a lot of potential, he just hadn’t hit enough balls before he got here because of several reasons, the weather, the competition he faced and the lack of practice partners.
“Once he got those things, naturally he was going to get better, and as time has gone on his game has gotten bigger and he’s also become more consistent from match to match. He’s a good defensive player and a good athlete, probably one of the best we have on the team.”
The former two-time Maine schoolboy singles champion — in 2005 and 2006 — under coach John Plourde at Hampden Academy also has emerged as a top doubles player in a somewhat unlikely pairing with Smith, a senior from Marietta, Ga.
“It’s funny, because my first year here we didn’t get along at all,” said the 5-foot-11, 181-pound Potvin. “We were roommates at first, but Ryan is a Type A personality and I’m a little messy, and in tennis we were both competing for a singles spot so it was tough on both of us.
“But after we got separated housing-wise we became very good friends on and off the court.”
Potvin and Smith began playing doubles together midway through the 2010 season and went 9-1, including a victory over the second doubles tandem from Virginia, the top-ranked team in the nation at the time.
“We really clicked,” said Potvin. “We’re both pretty athletic, and while we’re not big guys and we don’t have huge serves we work together well, we understand the game as well as each other on the court.”
Potvin and Smith followed up their junior seasons at Georgia Tech by winning three open tournaments last summer, including the Atlanta city championship.
“One thing that helps us is that I’m lefthanded and he’s righthanded,” said Smith. “It’s a good combination because when people play us they see different spins from us, and it also helps because neither one of us has to serve into the sun.”
The duo has been one of team’s most dependable point producers for Georgia Tech again this spring, with a 13-3 overall record at second doubles, including 6-1 in the ACC.
“They complement each other very well,” said Thorne. “Both are natural doubles players, and personality-wise they fit well together. “They’ve lost a couple of matches, but I look at them as one of the better doubles teams in the nation.”
After this weekend’s two home matches at the Blll Moore Tennis Center on campus, Georgia Tech closes out its regular season next Friday and Saturday at Virginia Tech and Virginia, which again is ranked No. 1 nationally.
Those matches are followed by the ACC tournament that begins April 21 at Cary, N.C., then the NCAA regionals starting May 13. The 16 regional tournament winners will advance to the NCAA championships in Palo Alto, Calif., beginning May 25, and Potvin and Smith hope to end their college careers by qualifying for the NCAA doubles championships that run May 27-30.
Potvin, who plans to graduate in December with a major in history and a minor in economics, said he’ll miss not only the on-court side of being a Division I college tennis player, but the off-court relationships forged from such a diverse group of teammates.
“When I was looking at schools I had people tell me to go to a college where there were a lot of Americans on the team. I didn’t think about it much, and I’m glad I didn’t,” Potvin said. “It’s been cool to get to know guys from different cultures and get a taste of where they come from.”
His teammates also got a taste of northern exposure from Potvin’s Maine perspective.
“My parents came down last fall and had McLaughlin’s Seafood ship down 30 lobsters, and my dad brought down some venison he had shot and we had a huge cookout for the guys, girlfriends, families, coaches and at Ryan’s house. They loved it. It was just great.”
And while his tennis game has improved significantly from the days when he dominated Maine’s best high school players, so, too, has his overall outlook improved — something he credits in large part to his coach.
“One thing I tell new recruits is that I feel like Kenny does a good job of not only making us better players but better people, too,” said Potvin, who will turn 22 in May. “I feel like I’ve matured a ton in the four years I’ve been here and it’s prepared me for whatever comes next.”
What Potvin hopes will come next is a career in professional tennis. This summer he and teammate Dean O’Brien, a senior from Benmore, South Africa, who plays third singles for the Yellow Jackets, will compete in singles and doubles in five International Tennis Federation Men’s Circuit Futures tournaments, one in Florida and four in the Midwest, with an eye toward earning points and beginning to establish themselves in the world rankings.
The Futures tour is the entry-level division of the men’s pro tour, followed by the Challenger division and then the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour that includes the world’s top 150 to 200 professionals.
“Futures tournaments usually have 64- or 128-player fields for singles, and if you don’t have an automatic berth to the main draw you have to play through several qualifying rounds. You need to win a main-draw match to earn an ATP point to get you into the main draw for the next tournament, but I don’t have any ATP points yet.
“But five tournaments is a lot, so if you’re winning a lot matches over those five weeks you might play 45 matches. It makes for quite a busy summer, and it also can make for a productive summer because it gives me the opportunity to get the ranking up to where I could feel comfortable in that first tier.”
And that comfort level — as well as the potential for some sponsorship support from tennis equipment manufacturers and other sources that comes with upward mobility within the rankings — ultimately will determine how long Potvin pursues his lifelong dream.
“It depends a lot on how I progress,” he said. “If I do terribly I’ll give it 18 months, that’s the minimum if it goes rock-bottom bad. But if I get mixed results or positive results, the timetable increases.”