Weather aside, Lievano enjoying Minnesota stay

by Aaron Blake

Minnesota men’s tennis senior Manuel Lievano hates the weather in Minnesota.

“It’s almost May and it’s 35 degrees,” Lievano complained in a noticeable Colombian accent while laughing. “Sometimes I wonder what in the hell am I doing here. Where I’m from, it’s like 85 degrees, and we don’t have seasons. The coldest it’s ever been is 70.”

Lucky for Lievano, coach Dave Geatz reminds him daily that coming 40 degrees north latitude and 50 degree south Fahrenheit has still been a good decision.

Geatz began the recruiting process early with Lievano. He first saw the 16-year-old Bucaramanga, Colombia, native tearing through the Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships in Miami seven years ago.

“When he contacted me, it was the first time I’d heard about college tennis,” Lievano said. “My coach told me to keep in contact and I did. When I decided to go to college, the first school out there for me was Minnesota.”

If the story were this simple, though, Lievano would be finishing his fourth year at Minnesota this season. In addition, his older brother might be bolstering a top-tier team at Minnesota.

However, Lievano’s senior season is only his second with the Gophers, and he actually played against his brother this year.

Whatever the best-laid plans, Geatz still has the utmost respect for Lievano and has cherished their time together.

For Geatz, the personality shining through in his rant about the weather shows just how devastating losing Lievano after this season will be.

“We’ll miss him as a person, not just a tennis player,” Geatz said. “He is one of a kind.”

Geatz’s admiration for Lievano is well reciprocated.

“One of the things I enjoy most here is the coaching staff,” Lievano said. “They’re great people and so easy to work with.”

Lievano has good reason to refer to attending Minnesota as “making it here.” Despite a long intent on playing for Geatz and the Gophers, school stood in the way.

Being home-schooled since he was 12 years old so he could practice and travel more for tennis, Lievano admits school “wasn’t his thing.” Trading books for backhands, he won four Colombian national championships as a youth.

His low SAT scores didn’t qualify him to attend Minnesota once he decided to play college tennis. So he followed his older brother, Jorge, to North Greenville College in Tigerville, S.C.

After Lievano won the 1999-2000 Mid-South Conference player of the year and the NAIA national singles championship, he once again set his sites on Minnesota.

Due to problems transferring credits, though, his admission to Minnesota was in doubt. Geatz was determined to grab hold of Lievano and not let go after having his brother, Jorge, “stolen” away by Tulane in exchange for a full ride.

Despite already being accepted by other schools such as Georgia Tech, Manuel rolled the dice on Geatz. He came two weeks before school started and was admitted days before classes began.

“It was a hassle,” Lievano said. “I was like, ‘What if school starts and I’m not in?’ But I’m really glad I made the decision, though it was tough.”

In his first season, Lievano went 16-10 overall and 6-2 in Big Ten play while playing mostly No. 3 and No. 4 singles.

This year, he had a chance to play his older brother when the Gophers hosted Tulane early this spring. With both usually playing at No. 4 singles, it seemed probable.

Initially, the brothers saw no reason to play each other. But Jorge changed his mind.

Manuel taught his brother to watch what he wishes for, beating him 7-6, 6-7, 6-3.

“Somehow he thought I would be scared,” Lievano said. “At the end, he was kind of mad he lost to his younger brother.”

Though Geatz might have been convinced that day he had the better of the Lievanos, he still gushes at the notion of both wearing maroon and gold.

And who can blame him for wishing “one-of-a-kind” were “two-of-a-kind”?