Capone routine works for Chicoine

Aaron Kirscht

Gophers men’s tennis coach David Geatz must have a little bit of Al Capone running through his veins.
In his pursuit of Tom Chicoine, Geatz stopped just short of ordering a pair of cement shoes for the coveted recruit. Who says bad guys never win?
“He wouldn’t make up his mind,” Geatz said. “He called me at midnight the night before the signing day and still hadn’t made up his mind. So I called him back and said, ‘Look, Tom. I want you to do me a favor. Go get a pen.’ He says, ‘Alright,’ and goes and gets a pen.
“Then I say, ‘OK, now I want you to go grab the Minnesota national letter of intent, put the pen in your hand and just sign Tom Chicoine. You’re going to go to Minnesota, alright? We were top 20 in the country, we have great facilities, it’s a great school. Geez, what more do you want? Sign the form right now.
“He said ‘OK,’ and that was that.”
It was all in fun, but Geatz’s strong-arm tactics paid off. Since joining the team last season, Chicoine has compiled a 51-29 record — tops on the team the last two years. This season, with most of his time coming at No. 2 singles and doubles, he stands at 26-9.
The native of Neenah, Wis., about a half-hour south of Green Bay, was recruited by the likes of Auburn, Kentucky, Notre Dame and Indiana after winning the state championship his senior season. He said he always wanted to play at a southern school but doesn’t regret his decision — or Geatz’s arm-twisting — to stay close to home.
“I never thought (the Big Ten) was that great,” Chicoine said. “But I didn’t know about Minnesota and all the Big Ten championships. Now, I’m sure I probably would have transferred here anyway.”
Prior to Chicoine’s arrival in the Twin Cities, the Gophers had won four Big Ten titles in a row. Barring his run through the NCAA tournament last season, Chicoine is a player who’s never really tasted the success to which the team has become accustomed. Nevertheless, he’s playing like a veteran.
“I think he’s playing as good as anyone in the Big Ten,” Geatz said. “He can beat anybody out there if he’s playing his game. He just needs the chance.”
That’s given Chicoine some leadership status on the Gophers, if only because he’s been the team’s only consistent winner all season. But he says he welcomes the attention — and the pressure.
“I feel like I have to play well, so I can set an example for the others,” Chicoine said. “If someone is doing well, people look to him and say, ‘I want to do well, too.’
“It gives your game a pick-up, because you want to win and support the team.”
This season, Chicoine’s impressive run hasn’t been enough. The Gophers have struggled to a below average 8-10 overall record, 4-4 in the Big Ten, with only two matches remaining before the Big Ten championships on April 24-27.
But Minnesota has won three of four since the return of No. 1 singles player Lars Hjarrand. The lone loss came to Big Ten-leading Northwestern, 5-2, last weekend.
“A lot of us thought we’d be a lot better than we are so far,” Chicoine said. “But I still think we’re one of the top three teams in the Big Ten, and we should have a pretty good shot at winning (the title).”
When his Gophers career is over, Chicoine said he’ll try the pro circuit for as long as he can. If that doesn’t work out, he’ll “come back to reality” and get a job somewhere in the sports industry.
But he’s still got some goals to accomplish. And Geatz won’t have to play the heavy to keep him around this time.
“I want to win the Big Ten, I want to be an all-American and I want to be on the All-Big Ten team,” Chicoine said. “Either this year or the next, I should be right there for all of them.”