NCAA Worthy - Albertine helped UL reach new heights April 3, 2013
Bruce Brown, Daily Advertiser, April 3, 2013
Athletic Network www.athleticnetwork.net
Former UL men's tennis coach Gary Albertine, right, poses for this team photo with one of the most talented squads he coached during his Ragin' Cajun coaching career.
Does anybody remember John Denbo?
He played tennis for Southwestern Louisiana Institute in 1909 and 1910, earning the distinction of being the first recorded player in school history.
Hundreds of players have suited up for the Cajuns since then in both men’s and women’s competition, with teams earning conference titles and national rankings and some players achieving All-America status.
One of the golden eras for the program was the 6-year span from 1983 through 1988, when coach Gary Albertine built upon a solid base formed by Jerry Simmons and led then-USL to a record of 119-64.file photo
Egypt’s Tarek El Sakka was the first ace of the Albertine era, posting the final two of his four career 20-win singles campaigns with records of 23-7 in 1983 and 23-15 in 1984.
But Albertine’s success was due largely to his ability to recruit talent from his native Deep South, with players like Jay Bailey, Ashley Rhoney, Tony Minnis, Bret Garnett, Curtis Hollinger and Vaughn an Boyd Bryan as his building blocks.
“I’m from the South, and had played all around, so as a rookie coach I stayed with familiar territory,” Albertine said. “I was able to put together a good team from southern states.”
Atlanta’s Bailey was the initial high profile signee, followed quickly by Hickory, North Carolina’s Rhoney.
“Jay was the first guy I got, and things started too fall in place from there,” Albertine said. “I was recruiting Ashley, too. He was going to go to another school and changed his mind. They were two of the top players in the South.
“Tony (Minnis) was actually the first one I ever signed. He was a serve-and-volleyer from Baton Rouge. His younger brother Pat played for us, too (1988-92). Things worked out great.”
The Bryans were younger brothers of Bill Bryan, who had starred for Simmons from 1977-80.
“Once we got a few in, kids started to talk,” Albertine said. “We got Bret the following year. They all enjoyed Lafayette. Once you get people to Lafayette, they can help but love it.”
The large number of former Cajuns still living and working in in the Acadiana area – many of them teaching and coaching tennis – is testament to the allure of Lafayette.
One example is Montgomery, Alabama product Hollinger, a local attorney who Albertine listed as the best all-around athlete he coached.
Sprinkle in Englishmen like Patrick Hughesman and Paul Reekie, and the Cajuns were quickly contenders.
After a 13-14 shakedown season, UL went 28-11, 21-12, 21-9, 19-9 and 17-9 in dual match competition.
“Everything was first-class,” Albertine said. “People in the community really supported us well, and I recognize Jerry Simmons for getting that started. He had done a great job. I came in and saw a great base already in place.
“We were young, but we got things going. We had a few elite players, but they were all fighters. I loved to work them hard, and it was great to see them getting better.”
Rhoney and Garnett achieved the highest recognition on that team, earning All-America status as a doubles team that was ranked No. 1 in the country for much of the 1988 campaign.
That was also the season that saw the Cajuns earn their first berth in school history into the NCAA Tournament’s team competition.
“As we got better, we were able to schedule better opponents,” Albertine said. “But the better we got, teams were reluctant to come to Cajun Courts to play us. So, if they won’t come to us, I said lets go play them on the road. We were also able to go to bigger tournaments.”
That included the National Indoors, and a history-making victory over tradition-rich UCLA.
“I told the players, ‘This is your opportunity right here,’ ” Albertine said.
Albertine’s group of mostly southern, hard-working fighters was perfectly suited to blossom in collegiate tennis.
“Tennis is so individual, and then in college they get the chance to play it as a team sport,” said Albertine, currently in real estate in the Memphis area. “They saw how much more fun it could be. They could see that it’s not just me having success; it’s a team effort.
“I’ll bet they look back on it as probably the best time of their life. They were really into it. It was a natural, because they were all so competitive. I appreciated the chance to have talented athletes that you could push.
“The worst part was trying to establish the lineup in the fall. Nobody liked it. They were all extremely competitive.”
The chemistry worked so well that only Simmons’ 10-year record of 202-81 tops Albertine’s body of work with the Cajuns. It was an era that’s been hard to match.
Tennis ReunionUL’s Ragin’ Cajun tennis program will hold a reunion of past players and coaches in conjunction with the school hosting the Sun Belt Conference Tennis Championhips April 18-21 at Cajun Courts.