Wagland impresses at the top
Georgia's No. 1 singles player adjusts to his new role
Gearing up for an NCAA tournament is no easy task. Try doing that when your top player suddenly leaves the team days before the championships start.
No. 3 Georgia found itself in that predicament when its No. 1 singles player, KU Singh, left the team. Suddenly, freshman Ben Wagland found himself as the Bulldogs’ new No. 1 singles player in the midst of preparing for his first NCAA tournament.
“Initially, everyone was a little shocked when [Singh] left. We had a team meeting and everyone was on the same page and, as a team, we said everyone else needs to step up now and play the best tennis ever,” Wagland said.
Georiga head coach Manny Diaz was just as stunned as the rest of the team when Singh left, but there was little he had to do to draw his team closer together.
“Sometimes you have situations that brings the team together and that unites the team. [Singh leaving] is one of those occasions. It gets everyone to feel that they can do something. ... It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that our players have become closer,” Diaz said.
Despite the shift to the No. 1 position, the 33rd-ranked Wagland hasn’t changed his strategy or attitude when it comes to the NCAA singles tournament, set at the University of Illinois’ Atkins Tennis Center. He received an at-large bid, which he earned due to his stellar performances throughout the fall and spring.
Even without some of the experience that the older members of his team have, he is practicing the same and doing his best to prepare himself against some of the best tennis players in the country.
“[Wagland] played two of his best matches in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament,” Diaz said. “He was playing to win, but also playing for his teammates.
“We were without our top player for eight or nine weeks early in the season with [Singh] suspended from the team and we did great. I know we will be fine.”
Wagland is keeping his cool under the pressure. As half of the No. 5 doubles team in the country (Hernus Pieters is his partner), Wagland is focusing on winning for the team.
“I’m really excited. It’s more pressure than SEC and regionals, but now that the team has gotten through that, all I can do is play my best. I hope I can get some more good wins.”
While that may seem simple, there is a lot more that goes on in these players’ minds once the adrenaline kicks in on the court.
“Once you get on the court, you have to problem solve and be comfortable. You have to help these kids formulate a game plan. It’s passed on through each player’s strength and weaknesses and [the athlete] needs to play on his strengths,” Diaz said.
Even with his sudden thrust to the spotlight, Wagland feels that his best contribution to the team is what it always has been: playing each match with everything he has.