Jorge Azuero (left) and Shea Thomas (right)
With the Liberty Flames men's tennis team in the midst of its fall campaign, LibertyFlames.com had a chance to catch up with two of the squad's top performers so far this season, senior Shea Thomas and junior Jorge Azuero.
Both Thomas and Azuero are coming off strong performances this past weekend at the UVa Fall Classic. As a doubles team, Thomas and Azuero captured a title in the Blue bracket, marking the second straight year a Flames' duo has won a doubles championship at the event. In singles play, Azuero posted a 4-0 record en route to a title in the Green flight, while Thomas notched a third-place finish in the top draw.
In the interview, Thomas and Azuero share their thoughts about the fall season so far and how the team is improving heading into the spring season.
In comparison to previous years, is the team doing anything differently this fall in preparation for tournaments?
Azuero: In comparison to previous years, the team has been working really hard on being able to last longer in points with high intensity. The coaches have been working on our physical strength and working on specific drills that help us accomplish this goal.
Thomas: This year we are working even harder than we have in the past couple of years. Coach Benson has been working us really hard and helping us improve our fitness levels. This has allowed us to be quicker and stronger on the court.
What did you do personally in the offseason to get yourself ready for this fall?
Azuero: I came a month before school started to train with some of my teammates. It was a big sacrifice since I had to leave my family and friends back in Colombia.
Thomas: Instead of going home to California, I stayed in Lynchburg the entire summer to train. I worked with Coach Johnson and Dillon (Segur), training three to four hours per day. I also had the chance to play in a couple of tournaments as well.
At the UVa Fall Classic, what part of your game was working the best? And how does your performance there help you moving forward this fall?
Azuero: At UVa, the mental part of my game was working the best. I started to believe more in myself. I knew I had worked hard over the past several weeks, so I went there feeling confident. God had a huge part in my play this past week. I prayed and set aside my results to Him. In every match, I prayed that He would be my most important audience, so I would just focus on Him and not on the person I was playing against or the people around the courts. My performance at UVa helped me believe that it is possible not only to win some matches, but also to win big tournaments. Now moving forward this fall, I have a different mindset when entering a match. I might not win every match in the upcoming tournaments, but I will still have the belief that everything is possible with faith and hard work.
Thomas: I felt more confident overall at UVa than I did in the first couple of tournaments this fall. My fitness level was much better also. I worked a lot with Coach Johnson and Coach Benson the last couple of weeks leading up to the tournament and we really practiced my ground strokes. I felt like every aspect of my game was working for me, serves, volleys and ground strokes. Moving forward, I think this last tournament has helped jump-start me to another level of play. Getting wins against good players has given me a lot of confidence for the remainder of the fall season.
What are some of your personal goals for this season?
Azuero: One of my goals for this season is to keep taking my game to another level. I feel I have improved a lot over the past month, but there is always something that I can get better at in my game. Continuing to win is another goal, but I also want to enjoy every second I'm on the court. Lastly, getting stronger both mentally and physically is a goal which will help me have a successful season.
Thomas: For the fall, my goal is to match or do better than I did last fall. Last year at the UVa tournament I won both a doubles and singles title and this year I won doubles and came in third in singles. Overall, I was happy with how I played at the tournament. For the spring, the goal is the same as it is every year and that is to win the conference championship and be regular-season champions as well. We haven't done that yet, but this year I feel our preparation will give us a really good shot to reach these goals.
How important is it to play well during the fall as you move toward the spring season? Azuero: Playing well allows me to build up confidence for the conference matches in the spring. We are going to have difficult matches during the spring, so playing well individually and as a team now will help us accomplish great things during the spring season. Thomas: The way you play in the fall can be a good indication of how you are going to start the spring season. We open the season against a ranked opponent, so we want to enter the season playing at a high level. We want to finish this season strong and use that momentum to help us possibly pull a couple upsets early in the schedule.
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