SoCon tennis championships
Women’s, 10 a.m.
No. 1 College of Charleston vs. No. 4 Samford
No. 2 UNC Greensboro vs. No. 3 Furman
Men’s, 2 p.m.
No. 1 Elon vs. No. 5 Samford
No. 2 College of Charleston vs. No. 6 Furman
This season has been atypical for Paul Scarpa, the Furman men’s tennis coach for the past 45 years and the winningest NCAA Division I coach in history.
Normally at or near the top of the Southern Conference each spring, the Paladins came into this week’s SoCon tournament at the Champions Club as the No. 6 seed, having gone 5-5 in the league and 7-17 overall during the regular season.
Those struggles appear to be in the past, however, because Furman is one of four teams still alive and still with a shot at earning the SoCon’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Paladins upset No. 3 seed UNC Greensboro on Thursday, 4-1, to advance to today’s semifinals. The win was No. 856 in Scarpa’s career. Judging by his post-match smile, it was quite a satisfying one.
“I think we’re good enough to play with the good teams, but I wasn’t expecting to challenge anybody for a championship,” said Scarpa, who took over the Furman program in 1964.
Furman won three SoCon regular-season and tournament titles in four years from 2006 to ’09, and its 14 SoCon titles is the most of any school. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is second with 12.
“He is sort of the standard that we’re all trying to follow, and if I can accomplish maybe 6 percent of what he’s accomplished, I’d be a successful coach,” UTC’s Carlos Garcia said of Scarpa, a seven-time SoCon Coach of the Year.
The word “retirement” crosses Scarpa’s mind from time to time, he said, but his passion for the game and his competitiveness remains as strong as ever.
“I’m always thinking of a better way to do everything. My mind just works that way,” he said. “You know what the players are doing and you try to sharpen the tools that they have and add to their toolbox.”
Along with winning more than 850 matches in his career, Scarpa has been an innovator in the sport. He developed the tape that is used for the lines on clay courts, and he came up with the team-match format in which teams play the doubles before the singles.
Scarpa said he’s still working on some ideas to improve the sport, but for now he’s focused on trying to lead the Paladins to another title.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...