Lee Tennis Stays Connected Despite Distance

Monday, March 30, 2020
Lisa Kirr and Dana Moreno celebrate together.
Lisa Kirr and Dana Moreno celebrate together.

How do you stay connected when you are oceans apart amid uncertainty all over the world? This is the paramount question for coaches all over the country and Lee men's and women's tennis coach Patric Hynes is finding the answers to keep his team close during this time of separation.

The Flames and Lady Flames were taking part in their annual Spring Break Trip down in Orlando, Fla. at the beautiful USTA National Campus when the season came to a sudden halt on Thursday, Mar. 12.

The Flames were riding a three-match winning streak to improve to 6-5 on the year after shutting out Quincy, 7-0 on Tuesday.
The Lady Flames had also won three in a row to move to 6-5 as they knocked off University of Mary, 7-0 and Winona State, 6-1 on Tuesday. Both teams were preparing for their final matches of the week on Friday.
 
"It wasn't great, but we understood the reasons why.  It's a worldwide pandemic that has affected a lot of people.  People are really suffering from this.  In many cases, people are losing loved ones and their jobs, so in the context of life, losing a season doesn't seem so bad.  So, while it's difficult to take, it's probably better to reflect on the things we are grateful for," said Hynes.

The initial shock took a few days for the players to come to grips with said Hynes, "because it happened so suddenly, it probably took a little while to sink in, it's unusual to have your season just stop right at the moment things are supposed to be ramping up," said Hynes. "Our players were disappointed, tennis is what they love to do, but they also understood.  They've done a great job adjusting to the circumstances they have been faced with."

Next came the task of getting back on campus and getting the players, many of which are international, back safely to their families. Hynes worked closely with school officials to get his players back home but realized the importance of staying connected during these uncertain and often unnerving times.

"The great thing about technology these days is that everyone can be reached fairly easily.  We've met as a team over Zoom and I've also been able to connect with our players over WhatsApp, phone calls and texts.  We are always available to help these guys," said Hynes.

Coach Hynes describes his program as all-encompassing. He has seen students come to Lee and fall in love with the campus and the people even though often there are cultural differences that must be managed. The all-encompassing approach has built a program based on excellence not just on the court but in the classroom and in being a part of the greater Lee community.

"It's always fun to watch these guys arrive and grow.  It really feels like they are an extension of our family once they get here and I love what they bring to our campus," said Hynes who himself was in a similar position as many of his players as a college athlete coming to America to play tennis at Lees-McRae all the way from Melbourne, Australia.

The sudden loss of the season hits the seniors the hardest. Thankfully, the NCAA has allowed an additional year of eligibility for spring sport athletes who saw their seasons ended prematurely due to the global pandemic. Cristian and Antonio Pons, seniors from Los Angeles, Chile are both expected to return to the Flames for the 2021 season along with senior Daniel Prata, who took a medical redshirt this season. The Lady Flames did not have any seniors on their 2020 roster.

"It looks like they (The Pons brothers) will both be coming back and I'm grateful that they will be able to finish their careers the right way," noted Hynes.

Moments like this help change our perspective on what's really important. No longer will any of us take for granted the "everyday" moments of a handshake or gathering for a meal or a cup of coffee or even the idea of training and practicing together. What's important for Hynes is that he gets to be back with his teams as soon as possible.

"Honestly, I'm just excited to have our teams together again.  We've got so many different personalities on these teams, it's hard to not see them around campus right now.  I told them the other day that the best part of my day is when we walk onto the court together," concluded Hynes.

Hopefully it won't be long before the DeVos Tennis Courts are once again occupied by the student athletes in the Maroon and White. These special players, some of which have traveled thousands of miles to embark on their collegiate journey in Southeast, Tenn., have found a family and a second home at Lee University.

Often on a spring day you can hear the shouts of senior Daniel Prata as he emphatically declares, "Lets go Flames," during a match or practice with his signature Brazilian accent and huge smile. The hope is that sooner than later we will once again hear those words echo off the brick buildings in the heart of Lee's campus.
Antonio Pons prepares to deliver a forehand winner.
Antonio Pons prepares to deliver a forehand winner.

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