By Jim O'Hara
ROME--“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
One team advanced to a national semifinal, the other emerged as one of the top squads in a conference that is among the nation’s best and both produced players who were considered America’s best.
All, however, are a distant second to what Shorter men’s and women’s tennis teams really accomplished this past season – they gave comfort to one who mourned, head coach Orville Adams.
“It was tough and it came during an important part of the season for us,” Adams said about the passing of his mother – the photos of her 90th birthday three years ago hold a prominent place on her beloved son’s office walls – during Shorter’s spring break in March.
“We use that time to help us not only get better on the court but to have that team bonding,” he went on to say. “We couldn’t do that this year, but I can’t tell you what it meant to see them come together at the end of the season.”
Clearly, it was how the Hawks closed out the year that has given Adams a comforted feeling, uniting to shake off what had been an up and down season and finish it on a national stage.
After closing out their first outing as an NCAA Division II team competing in the Gulf South Conference with an 8-10 regular-season record, the Hawks – they are unable to play in the GSC or NCAA postseasons this year and in 2014 – kept the playoff door open by earning a No. 8 ranking in the National Christian College Athletic Association’s national poll.
That spot wound up giving Shorter a berth in the NCCAA National Tournament held last week in Mobile, Ala., where the Hawks advanced to the tourney semifinals losing to eventual champion Azusa Pacific, which like Shorter is a former NAIA powerhouse that is making the transition to the NCAA Division II ranks.
“This was a tough field, especially with Azusa and Fresno Pacific (that is also transitioning) there. They’re pretty deep teams,” said Adams. “But doing well at the nationals was a great accomplishment for the team.”
In addition to their success as a team, three Hawks collected NCCAA honors as sophomore Romain Lefevre was named a First Team All-American; sophomore Roman Ferreira earned Second Team All-American and All-Tournament recognition; and junior Marc Guerry was tabbed as a Second Team All-American.
“The guys came alive,” said Adams. “They became a cohesive team at the end of the season in singles and doubles.”
Cohesion was evident when the Lady Hawks took the court, where the team rolled up a 13-7 overall record and an even more impressive 6-2 mark in the GSC that pinned down the third-place spot.
Like their male counterparts, Shorter’s women also extended their season, although the Lady Hawks – they were ranked No. 7 in the final NCCAA regular season poll – were tasked with trying to earn a national tourney berth by first competing in regional play.
A heartbreaking 5-4 loss to eventual national runner-up Palm Beach Atlantic in the NCCAA South Region championship match ended the Lady Hawks season, but the team still drew post-season accolades as junior Candice Laurent and sophomore Aurelie Gaborit were named NCCAA First Team All-Americans.
“They held their own in the conference, there’s no question about that,” Adams said about the Lady Hawks. “They had a great season.
“But both teams know we’ve got to get better,” he said, “to be able compete in the Gulf South and in Division II.”