Chicoine covers biggest hole for U men’s tennis team

Ken Zimmer

Blanketing large holes is a job for two Neenah, Wis., products: manhole covers and Tom Chicoine.
Neenah, where most manhole covers in the United States are manufactured, also serves as the hometown of the men’s tennis player. Chicoine, a junior, has filled the hole at No. 1 singles for the Gophers as the lone mainstay in a lineup that has been shifted and shuffled all season long.
Chicoine has been counted on to plug a gap since coming to the University as the highest-rated U.S.-born tennis player recruited by the Gophers. He said tradition on and off the court attracted him to Minnesota.
“I heard Dave (Geatz) was a good coach,” Chicoine said. “I also knew it was a good academic school, and had a lot of good players come through the program.”
Geatz welcomed him to the program with little doubt of his future success. Chicoine had already won a state high school championship, been selected as an All-American twice and held a No. 16 ranking nationwide.
“The worst I thought Tom could be was a great No. 5 or No. 6 starter,” Geatz said. “I knew either he or (teammate Adam Selkirk) would eventually play at No. 1 singles.”
After Chicoine compiled a 55-30 record in two seasons starting in the top four singles positions, Geatz saw enough to make him the No. 1 starter. He said Chicoine’s court awareness and intelligence highlight his game.
“Anyone that can beat Tom, I’ll take my hat off to, because he’ll never beat himself,” he said.
Chicoine said his aggressiveness and hard play keeps him at the top of his tennis game.
“I fight every match,” he said. “No matter if I’m winning or losing, I’ll give it my all.”
Other members on the team admire Chicoine’s “fired-up” attitude and use it to motivate their own aggressiveness.
“(His fight) is something we can model after, more than anything else,” Selkirk said. “You see a guy who has lost like 10 matches in a row, and he’s still diving for balls and fighting hard.”
Despite losing eight out of nine matches one stretch this season, Geatz kept Chicoine at No. 1 singles.
The coach’s patience is now paying off. Chicoine seems to have found his touch, winning five of his last seven matches. His record now stands at 20-16, with a 6-3 conference mark. Two of those wins were over No. 24 Marc Silva and No. 41 Oliver Freelove.
He now finds himself among the elite in the nation, earning a No. 90 ranking in the Rolex Collegiate Tennis Rankings.
“He was struggling for a while, but I never really thought about moving him out of the lineup,” Geatz said. “Every year he’s gone through a little spell, but comes up big at the end of the year.”
Chicoine blamed himself for his early-season losses and admitted he didn’t mentally prepare himself for the move to No. 1 singles.
“I didn’t feel any pressure moving from No. 2 to No. 1,” he said. “I didn’t anticipate it being this big. Each match is difficult — you can’t go in thinking you’re going to kill (the opposition).”
But right now he is focusing on the Big Ten tournament beginning April 30.
The Gophers have finished in second and third place at the tournament during Chicoine’s tenure. They currently are tied for sixth place in the Big Ten with a 4-5 conference record, but Chicoine remains determined to win.
“I came to the University of Minnesota to win the Big Ten tournament,” he said. “We have good players and good depth. I want that championship ring on my finger.”