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Spotlight on Former Athlete: Gus Orellana – Men’s Tennis 1978 & 79

Gus Orellana

Singles: 50-21, including Southland Conference title 1979

Doubles: 44-22, including Southland Conference title 1978

Work: W.R. Grace Inc., Natural Gas industry, last 15 years

Home: Wife Denise Broussard, 21 years, 6 children, 6 grandchildren

Low-key Orellana found a home with Cajuns

By Bruce Brown

Written for Athletic Network

Gus Orellana looks like he could pick up a racquet today and make a return appearance at UL’s Cajun Courts.

As a matter of fact, the two-time Southland Conference champion is still playing competitive tennis, some 39 years after helping coach Jerry Simmons’ Ragin’ Cajuns to back-to-back SLC titles in 1978 and 79.

And he has no intention of stopping yet.

I have continued to play, in USTA Senior Leagues,” Orellana said. “Four or five years ago, (LSU-ex) Drew Meyers and I won the Men’s 4.5 Nationals in doubles. I still enjoy it.

I also help out with Mt. Carmel and Vermilion Catholic in Abbeville, helping to teach them tennis. My kids all played, and I’ve got a grandson who goes there.”

Orellana and second wife Denise Broussard of Abbeville, have been married 21 years and have a blended family of 6 children and 6 grandchildren.

Clearly, the Ecuador native has settled in to south Louisiana. It didn’t take him long to see what natives have known for years.

USL was a great school to be a part of,” Orellana said. “I’ve been really blessed to be here. My teammates here, we’re all friends for life. We’ve gone different directions – some teach (tennis), some are in industry, but we’ve kept in touch, and I think the community of USL has a lot to do with it.”

The Cajuns were coming off their first Southland Conference team title in 1977 when Simmons coaxed Orellana into the program from Palm Beach Junior College.

He promptly went 25-11 in singles and 24-8 in doubles, including the SLC doubles title with James Boustany, as a junior. The low-key standout then posted a 25-10 singles record as a senior and won the SLC individual crown, and was 20-14 in doubles, as USL claimed a third straight SLC team championship.

Gus was a great clay courts player,” Simmons said. “Great on all courts, really. He could serve and volley, move the ball around. He had a great slice backhand that really opened up the court.

Most people hit long and come in to the net. He could do that, but he could also hit it short and jump the net, take it away from you.”

Club tennis background

Everything was soccer in Ecuador growing up,” Orellana said. “My parents joined a club so we could play tennis. There was only one club in Guayaquill. We traveled to different clubs to play junior tournaments.

Coach Miguel Olivera was instrumental in Orellana’s growth at that stage.

He told us you’ve got to work harder than the other guy,” Orellana said. “He also said you only play better when you lose, because that’s when you learn. He taught me much more than just tennis.”

Then it was time to branch out from the South America junior circuit.

After high school, four or five of us traveled to Florida to play junior tournaments,” Orellana said. “All of us got recruited. My JC won our conference both years and made it to the national JC semifinals each year. I won regional doubles both years.

That (junior college) is where Jerry recruited me. I didn’t even know where USL was, and told him I had other offers, but he said, ‘You really need to come to Lafayette.’

I was introduced to the patrons and his supporters. I met the people and they were all friendly, family-oriented, faith-oriented. Fun people who worked hard. It was just like coming home.”

Playing on Cajun Courts was quite different than the clay courts back home, though, so there was a learning curve.

It was a big adjustment,” Orellana said. “You can’t slide to the ball like you can on clay. It’s quick and fast. Jerry took me under his wing and made for an easy transition to hard courts.

I don’t have a big game, with big strokes. But I was willing to stay out there as long as it took to get the win. I would find a way to win. Paul Griffith, Bill Bryan, those guys were much better than me. I had to improve to keep up.”

Orellana soon found that collegiate tennis offers a combination of team play and individual skills.

It’s a tremendous sport in college,” he said. “It is a team sport, but when you’re on the court you have to make decisions and adjustments, find a way to win. Ultimately, it’s up to you.”

Still, playing with Griffith, Bryan, Steve Hernandez, Boustany, Gary Bowles, Danny Freundlieb, Gary Atkinson, Gary Coetzee and Brian Theriot formed lifelong connections.

Missing from the roll call is Tom Gilham, who died in an auto accident in 1978 on the way home to Shreveport.

It was tough,” Orellana said. “He was part of that team that gelled together so well. We were out late Saturday night, and he said, ‘I’m going home.’ We said it’s late and that’s a long drive.”

Simmons sought attitude

Simmons, inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame this summer, was adept at finding athletic players who were at times unsung but had a drive and ambition to succeed that allowed them to go toe-to-toe with some of the best programs in college tennis.

Orellana’s two years were part of that building process.

Fearless scheduling pitted the Cajuns against teams from the SEC, SWC, West Coast and others. And, following Olivera’s model, they improved through stiff competition.

Orellana posted one career highlight when he won the singles title at the Bing Crosby World University tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1978.

Jerry was able to get us invited,” Orellana said. “We were a small school from Louisiana, the little kids playing with the big kids. I loved it. It was on clay. Some other guys struggled.

It was great because it got us some recognition.”

By nature, Orellana is not one to seek attention, although he was blessed with the same competitive drive as many of Simmons’ players. But he earned every accolade he received.

And found a life surrounded by good people in the process.

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Click here for Gus and his 1978 Men’s Tennis Teammates who won the Southland Conference Championship.

Click here for Gus’ athletic network profile.

Click here for Gus and some of his teammates at the 2013 Tennis Reunion.

Click here for the photo gallery of the 2013 Tennis Reunion, featuring Gus, his teammates, and many other tennis players, coaches and patrons – current and former.

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Click here for the chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes.

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