University of Georgia sophomore Thomas Paulsell, from Seattle, won four of his six singles matches in straight sets this season. With the Bulldogs hosting NCAA first and second rounds this weekend, Paulsell discusses how much he appreciates his interactions with UGA tennis alumni, looking up to John Isner, and the special traits of this team.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)
Q: Since you are from Seattle, how did you find out about UGA?
A: When I was 12 years old, they had this national junior tennis tournament where you get grouped with an 18-year-old as a 12-year-old. When I was 12, I was grouped with this 18-year-old named Walker Duncan, and he was committed here to Georgia. And ever since then, I fell in love with Georgia. And when I was old enough to start getting recruited, one of my dream schools was Georgia, and I wanted to go pretty far away from home.
Q: Before you met Walker, what had you heard about Georgia?
A: I knew (John Isner) played here, but I needed to learn more about the culture. I actually looked up a picture and saw the stadium, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I want to go there. It’s pretty.’ You just want to go here.
Q: Has Isner been a role model for you?
A: He definitely was because I grew up watching him play. When I was growing up, he was the top American player forever. And he always would talk about playing at Georgia. And so it always was like, ‘I want to go there.’ He said when they played at NCAA’s and the stands were completely crowded, he couldn’t hear UGA head coach Manny Diaz talking to him. That’s when I was like, ‘Oh my god, I want to see what it’s like.
Q: How different is Georgia than you expected?
A: Walker told me that the culture is the closest brothers in the country. And at the time, I was like, ‘OK, he can say that.’ Obviously. He went there. But since I’ve been here, it’s so true. In my opinion, there’s no team closer than us in the country and our alumni. They keep in touch with all of us all the time.
Q: How do the alumni keep in touch with you?
A: They text us before, usually, every big match. And then if we have a big win, you’ll look at your phone after the match, and you’ll have 20 messages from the alumni just reaching out.
Q: What went through your head the first time you came back from a match and you’ve got texts coming in from the alumni?
A: I was kind of shocked because usually, I’m just seeing texts from my mom and dad. And now I have texts from other people. And it’s like, ‘Wow, all right, the community here is huge.’
Q: How different is that from some of your friends that play elsewhere?
A: I told them about it, and they were kind of shocked. Their alumni don’t even reach out to them. They don’t even know most of them. I’ve met almost every alumnus in the last 10 years.
Q: How would you describe your role on the team heading into the NCAA tournament?
A: “I’m not playing as much as I would like to be, but it’s all right because our team is insane this year. We’re so good. And my role right now is just honestly just firing up the guys, getting them ready. But I love it.
Q: When you go through these practice battles, what do you take away from those competitions?
A: It’s always practice like you play, but it’s really hard to actually do that. But here, when we’re playing practice matches, they get intense. And it actually feels like a real match.
Q: I know you’ve been a part of some really good teams in the past, but what is different about this team specifically?
A: I came into college a semester early and redshirted, and that team made the quarters at NCAAs, and we were really good. And then last year, we were really good as well. But the difference with this team is all my teams have been really close. But this team, we’re really, really close. We do everything together off the court. After practice, we’re like, ‘Where are we going to dinner together?’ We do everything as a team. We make fun of each other. It’s fun. We’re like a big family.
Luke Winstel is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.