Hartford, Conn. - Currently, freshmen and sophomores occupy five out of six starting spots on the Trinity College men's tennis team, and three quarters of the athletes on the roster are in their first or second year at the College. However, youthful players do not make an unwise team. Senior captains Michael Pucci and Jordan Kemp bring unrivaled experience and knowledge to the courts as they look to lead this Trinity team to the conclusion of its fall season and the start of a successful spring.
Pucci and Kemp are no strangers to working together. In fact, they live mere minutes away from each other, Pucci in Greenwich, Conn. and Kemp in Westchester, N.Y. The two grew up playing in USTA tournaments together. Though they attended separate high schools, Pucci and Kemp say they have been best friends for a long time, and both applied early decision to Trinity. The two are fraternity brothers and economics majors, however they took very different paths to the Trinity tennis team.
Kemp was a recruited athlete, but Pucci walked on to the team he now leads. In order to secure his spot on the team, Michael had to win a tournament, beating all other students trying to walk on. He then had to win a match against a member of the team. Pucci did both, and three years later leaves Head Coach Paul Assaiante nearly speechless when attempting to describe what he and Jordan mean to the program.
"Words cannot express what an amazing job they're doing as captains," said the coach. "Pucci and Kemp are particularly inspiring considering neither occupies one of the six starting positions. This is the first time that captains aren't presently in the starting lineup. It's the first time we've had captains that aren't the rock stars on the team."
Said Kemp of their role, "In the past most of the captains have been one or two on the team. For us it isn't being one or two, it is more like making sure that everyone is putting 100 percent into practice, everyone is working hard, everyone understands that the team is a privilege not a right, and that each player knows what it means to be a part of the team."
Pucci agreed, adding, "The younger kids play the most right now. We are trying to be role models. What we do, everyone does as a team."
And role models they are. Sophomore Musyoka Mbithi said, "Having captains that aren't in the starting lineup definitely brings a different feel to the team. They remind us to stay humble and keep working hard. They bring a lot of wisdom and maturity to a young team like ours."
Pucci and Kemp say they feel privileged to be on the team and honored to serve as captains. Jordan, who played three varsity sports in high school, said, "It was cool to come to Trinity and be able to play on a college team even though I played a bunch of different sports growing up. Michael and I were both abroad last fall, so it was also very special to be named captain coming back from a semester away from the team."
The men also spoke about the dedication required of the entire team. "Tennis is one of the few fall and spring sports on campus. You have to be on top of things from the beginning. Our season will go until our last match in mid-October, and though we don't start officially until February, off-season conditioning goes throughout the winter," noted Jordan.
Kemp said the time and effort does not deter players from listing the team as their favorite part of the school. "A lot of kids talk about how the tennis team is their favorite aspect of Trinity. It's a sport, but you have so many people you can look to for advice. People are involved in things all over campus."
A coach, who, while recognizing the team's youth, can't help but praise the work the two captains have done. "They're playing tennis for the right reason. They are great players, and solid guys, and they just make me proud to be a part of the program. Michael and Jordan like the game and they like being a part of the team. That's so commendable, " said the veteran coach.
The feeling of respect is certainly mutual. Said Pucci, "Coach motivates the team during matches and in practice."
Jordan agreed, adding, "The best thing that everyone talks about is how Coach is like a father figure to a lot of kids. It's a pretty diverse group. We have several international students. He's always there for us, especially for those who are from farther away."
Michael and Jordan did not fail to mention their assistant coach, Richard Bonfiglio, a recent Trinity graduate, who they credit with helping the players with strategy and the physical aspect of the game.
Though there are still a few weeks left in the fall season, the captains are already looking forward to the spring. Said Pucci, "We go to California every year. That's kind of the start of our season. That's when you get to know the kids."
"In California there are five teams there that change every year. We play Bowdoin, which is our biggest match there because it's another NESCAC school. In the past, they have been our biggest rival in the conference," he continued.
Though the captains are excited for the spring, they do not hesitate to look even further ahead in the future of the Trinity tennis program. Like the selfless leader he is, Kemp cites the commitment of his teammates as a strength of the program moving forward. "Many of the guys aren't playing that much. It's a great thing that they still want to be on the team and engaged in matches even if they don't play."
Coach Assaiante agreed, remarking, "Its just really great chemistry out there. People think that coaches determine the chemistry of a team but we don't. The chemistry is created by the leaders and by the dynamic of the people on the squad. It is not an easy task to lead such a large, youthful squad, but Michael and Jordan, focused on the future, are certainly the two for the job.
In the words of the decorated coach, "The best tennis is ahead of us."
written by Emily Johnson '14