Perseverance Pays Off for Menzies in Senior Season
On Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m., South Carolina senior Harry Menzies will begin his final regular-season match at Carolina Tennis Center, capping a career that has taken him being a walk-on who played in just two dual matches as a freshman to a senior season in which he has doubled his career singles wins and is part of a nationally ranked doubles team that has helped the Gamecocks to a top-25 ranking.
Menzies has seen it all as a Gamecock, choosing South Carolina because of the combination of its international business program and the ability to play tennis in the SEC. A three-time all-state performer who helped his high school team to a state championship, Menzies walked on to the tennis team at Carolina with modest expectations.
"You come in as a walk-on, and you're not expecting to immediately jump into the lineup," Menzies said. "You're mostly just provided with an opportunity, and the coaches expect you to make the most of it. So, I tried to keep my head down and work hard. I knew that three or four seniors were leaving, so there could be an opportunity for me to play as a sophomore if I worked hard."
A coaching change slightly reset the table for Menzies, but he persevered, proving to new head coach Josh Goffi that he could perform when called upon. Menzies was a fixture in the singles lineup as a sophomore, but had a hard time getting wins in the nation's elite tennis conference. Despite the setbacks, though, he calls his first SEC win (against Arkansas on March 4, 2011) one that he will never forget because it actually clinched the team victory as well, Goffi's first at the helm of the Gamecocks.
The confidence and momentum that should have carried Menzies into his junior senior was thwarted by illness and injury in the fall that kept him out of the lineup for the whole season. It was just another obstacle put in his path that would help strengthen him for his final campaign.
"It was very tough mentally," Menzies said. "I barely got to practice in the fall, and it was very taxing mentally. But my coaches and teammates provided me with a good support system. Knowing I had one more year left, I figured why not give it everything I've got. I wanted to put everything I had into it, work as hard as I could, and see where the chips fall."
The chips have certainly fallen into place for the senior, closing his time in the Garnet and Black as a key part of a team putting up the program's best season since 2005. Menzies' transformation started with his game and fully matured when he his mental approach evolved as well. Goffi came to his senior in the fall, hoping he would be open to a change that ended up altering the course of his final season.
"Changing game style was a huge one for me this year," Menzies said. "At the beginning of the fall, I was struggling a lot with my forehand - like I had most of my career. Then Josh and I talked about how we can't just expect it to get better, so we totally changed my game style. It's a very unorthodox type of game that you don't see a lot, especially in college tennis. I only practiced it for a week before I went to play in my final fall tournament."
After going just 1-2 in his first fall event, Menzies took his re-tooled game to the Carolinas Invitational at Winthrop. The results solidified the decision as he advanced to the final in the top flight of the event in both singles and doubles. In singles action, he won a pair of three-set matches before falling in a third in the final. Paired with Ben Barnette in doubles, Menzies claimed his first collegiate title, a feat many college players will never experience.
"Harry played as a sophomore and took his lumps, but he wasn't fully engaged in what it meant to be a contender at that point, for earning his spot and feeling like he was worthy of it," Goffi said. "Since then, he's proven a lot to himself, most importantly. But he's also proven a lot to the team and his coaches."
With his strategy ready for the spring, Menzies and Goffi began working on his mental approach to the game. For many athletes, that hurdle can be even more difficult the climbing over the physical ones.
"We challenge guys every day to go through that black door of challenging themselves, of facing their fears, especially the fear of failing," Goffi said. "Most guys just play the part, and Harry was a pretender for a while. But he finally became a contender this year, and he's a whole-hearted contender. The guy is the real deal. Over the last 8-12 months, Harry has legitimately become a man right in front of your eyes. Most importantly, he's extremely proud of himself for that. He's faced his worst fears as a competitor, and that ability to not be afraid to be very successful is going to carry him through the rest of his life. I couldn't be more proud of him. He may be lacking in some skills on the court, but he lays it out there 100 percent every time he plays. You see that he is so happy to be out here all the time. As a coach, that gives you the coaching buzz that you're looking for. A lot of guys will go through their whole tennis careers or athletic careers even and never face the music, but he did it. And he did it in his last year. I'm super happy for him."
Menzies is 11-10 in singles in dual matches this season, including three SEC victories. His wins over UNC Wilmington and at Auburn clinched the team victory for the Gamecocks. In doubles, he has been an even more important contributor, teaming with Kyle Koch to form the No. 84 doubles team in the country. The duo is 13-7 in dual-match play, including a 5-5 slate in the SEC. Three of those five league wins came against ranked opponents, highlighted by the 9-7 defeat of Georgia's 39th-ranked duo. In Friday's contest against Vanderbilt, it was Koch and Menzies that clinched the doubles point for the Gamecocks, setting the stage for the team's 4-0 sweep of the 13th-ranked Commodores.
Through all his ups and downs on the tennis court, Menzies has had two constants - his attitude and his commitment to the classroom. While his tennis is peaking, the senior's academic mission has always been at a high level. With the highest GPA on the team, he has been an example for his young teammates on how to balance athletics and academics.
"You have to dedicate yourself to the idea that every semester of every year you're going to have to buckle down and do your work even when you probably just want to relax after a hard day at practice," Menzies said. "You have to be very good at managing your time and multi-tasking. But, it starts with the right mindset. It's not as hard if you know what to expect."
Managing expectations of his future is a bit more difficult for Menzies. With plans to do an internship this summer, he will earn his degree in December. It was the uncertain nature of that future that got him in a little hot water with his teammates after the team's first SEC weekend sweep since 2009, although it's mostly in fun.
"I think the guys are still mad that I still haven't gotten my mohawk because I'm still interviewing for internships," Menzies laughed.
Whatever the next phase of his life is, Menzies will always treasure his time representing South Carolina on the tennis courts, especially being a part of returning the program to an elite level.
"I'm going to miss the family aspect of the team," Menzies said. "You're all out there working towards a common goal but in a fun environment. It's awesome to see how the hard work we've put in the last three years has now transpired into what is happening now. It's an amazing thing to see the direction that this program is moving. It'll be a top-five team and competing for national titles in the near future."
The Gamecocks certainly are moving in the right direction, and as they close out the regular season on Sunday, they will head into the postseason where they can show the rest of the nation exactly how far they have come. So come out to the courts Sunday afternoon to honor a senior who stayed the course long enough to reap its rewards and to cheer the whole team on against No. 8 Kentucky.