Feb. 20, 2004
By Blake Twisselman
The Santa Clara
It's funny how things can change in the course of a year.
Feb. 21, 2003: As the West Virginia Mountaineers and Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles took to the courts in Clemson, S.C., the intensity in the featured number one singles match began to intensify. On one side of the court was Tech's hard-hitting German Gernot Fischer, who claimed the first set by a score of 7-5. On the other side of this tension-filled court stood West Virginia sophomore Eric Kochanski who stormed back with a 6-3 win in the second set to even up the match.
The two sweat-soaked players forged deep into the third set. Tension built up as Fischer fought off multiple match points to claim a 7-5 victory. As the two players walked slowly towards the net to shake hands after the match, surely the last thing that crossed their minds was that they would become doubles partners at the Mission Campus only months later.
"We still joke about that match," Fischer explained. "And I still make fun of (Eric) once in a while for losing those match points."
Despite the common bond of their prior competition, the two transfer players took considerably different paths to reach the Silicon Valley this season.
Fischer, a senior, grew up in Freising, Germany before coming to the United States to begin his collegiate tennis career. The 6-foot-1-inch red-head played number one singles all three seasons for Tennessee Tech, earning Ohio Valley Conference honors during each season. After the end of his junior season, Fischer acquired permission from Tennessee Tech to transfer to another university.
"I was contacted by him through e-mail just after he received his release from Tennessee Tech," Santa Clara Head Coach George Husack recalled.
Fischer did independent research on various schools in California based on their academic and tennis reputations, realizing that Santa Clara might be the perfect place to spend his senior year.
"I wanted to experience something else and I really wanted to come to California," Fischer said. "I contacted (Husack) and a couple of other coaches, but he took care of me so I ended up here at Santa Clara."
Fischer has been a critical element of the Santa Clara tennis team this season, compiling a 5-3 singles record at the number one singles position against some of the nation's fiercest competition.
"He can pretty much play with anyone," Husack mentioned of his ace. "He's never gonna get blown off the court. He has a big serve and we have worked with him this season on coming up to the net more often to win more easy points."
Kochanski wound up at Santa Clara after a series of unusual occurrences. The Canonsburg, Pa., native was forced to transfer after West Virginia dropped their men's tennis program to satisfy Title IX provisions, which mandate that men's and women's sports must receive equal funding.
Husack became aware of Kochanski's availability by way of West Virginia's Head Coach.
"I met their coach when we played against West Virginia a few years back and he mentioned that they had an animal who was playing number one for them. It was really kinda lucky that their program got dropped."
Kochanski was all set to transfer to Virginia Tech before he got a call from Husack and decided to visit the Mission Campus, despite little prior knowledge of the school.
"All I knew about Santa Clara was that Steve Nash played there," Kochanski admitted. "I knew that they had good soccer teams, but I didn't know much about the tennis program except that they were ranked. I was definitely going to go to Virginia Tech before George (Husack) called me. I took a trip out here and I really liked it. It seemed like a good fit and I really liked the team and the coaches. And I especially liked (Santa Clara's) schedule and the nice weather."
It was here where Kochanski and Fischer reunited for the first time since their three-set thriller in Clemson.
"The moment I saw (Kochanski), I remembered him," Fischer said. "We basically became good friends right away."
When Coach Husack formed the doubles teams at the beginning of the season, he slated Fischer to play with senior Erich Chen and Kochanski to team up with junior Taylor Bedilion. Husack paired up Fischer and Kochanski just in time to play in the ITA Regional Tournament.
"They both have big serves and they have really good chemistry," Husack explained. "They gel really well out there on the court."
Kochanski realized the pair's chemistry almost instantaneously as the two began playing doubles together.
"We complement each other very well," said the junior. "We know where each other is going, and we mesh really well. It's kinda weird because even though we didn't know each other coming into this season, once we started playing together it felt like we already did."
Fischer echoed his partner's sentiments.
"(Kochanski) is a lot like the doubles player I played with last year. I know where he's going on the court and he knows where I'm going. We don't really have to talk too much about what we're going to do out there."
As the Santa Clara men's tennis team fights through their difficult schedule this season, Fischer and Kochanski will have their sights set on improving their national ranking and qualifying for the postseason tournament by defeating other quality doubles teams.
"We're finally starting to play the way we're capable of," Kochanski commented. "So we feel like we can compete and make it to the NCAA Tournament."
Doubles tennis is the ultimate game of experience and precision, with both partners depending on a shared knowledge of each other's game and court movement. So as Fischer and Kochanski achieve success on the courts this spring, Bronco tennis fans should truly appreciate where these two transfer players have come in just one season at Santa Clara.
It isn't very probable that either Fischer or Kochanski would have ever imagined they'd be a nationally-ranked doubles team as the two shook hands last February in Clemson. But then again, a lot can change in a year.
Contact Blake Twisselman at (408) 554-4852 or [email protected].