Texas A&M's Brett Joelson came into the 2005-06 tennis season with high expectations. After a strong summer of tournament play, the Aggie junior was hoping to establish himself as one of the top players in collegiate tennis.
Then he threw a monkey wrench into that plan. Or, rather, he grabbed a monkey wrench.
BIG 12 TENNIS
WHERE: Baylor Tennis Center and Streich Tennis Center, Waco
TICKETS: All-tournament pass - $10 adults, $5 child-student. General admission - $5 adults, $3 child-student.
A&M WOMEN: 8:30 a.m. Friday vs. Kansas State. A&M MEN: noon Friday vs. Oklahoma State.
Just before heading to campus for the fall, Joelson ditched the racket he'd been using since he was 16-years-old for a new one and lost his first nine matches of the season.
There were other factors besides the racket, like a stomach virus that forced him to miss a match and weakened him for another. Still, he couldn't help but think the new racket was the culprit.
"I think that had a lot to do with it," Joelson said. "I don't know if it was the racket itself but more of a mindset. It didn't help when the first match of the year I was up 5-2 in the third and lost. It kind of just trickled down from that."
Looking for something, anything, to help him break out of his funk, Joelson returned to his old racket. Since the switch, Joelson has won 14 of his 16 matches and posted a 5-1 record in Big 12 play.
"I knew I had to do something to change it around, so I switched back to my old racket," he said. "I think I am going to stick with it through the rest of my college career."
Joelson will be looking to put that racket to good use when the fifth-seeded Aggies face the fourth-seeded Oklahoma State Cowboys in the first round of the Big 12 Tennis Championships on Friday. Because of possible bad weather, the match at the Baylor Tennis Center in Waco has been moved up to noon.
The Aggies enter the match ranked 18th nationally, while the Cowboys, who scored a 4-3 victory over the Aggies at the Mitchell Tennis Center during the regular season, are ranked 16th.
"My feeling is [this match] is going to impact who hosts first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament," A&M head coach Tim Cass said.
While the Aggies lost to Oklahoma State as a team, the Cowboys' Olexsander Kotsluk was one of the 14 singles players who have fallen prey to Joelson since his racket change.
Joelson won the first set, 6-4, but dropped the second, 7-6, before prevailing in the super tiebreaker, 10-8.
"He really did get off to a rough start," Cass said of Joelson. "I admire his grit because it is tough. I think he met the challenge head on and was willing to work himself through a slow start and now has arguably become the most consistent point we have."
Joelson has also been a constant for the Aggies in doubles play, where he has posted an 18-12 record while playing with four different partners.
This season, Joelson has teamed with Matt Bain (1-0), Jerry Makowski (1-1), Conor Pollock (2-1) and Bryan Wooten (14-10).
"He has always had a big impact [in doubles] since his freshman year," Cass said. "He is, in my opinion, one of the Top 10 doubles players in the country. It hasn't mattered who he plays with. We've been able to use him with a variety of different players over the years.
"He has been able to adapt, and that's a credit to his level of play."
Joelson is a second-generation Aggie tenis player.
Both of Joelson's parents, Brian and Teresa, attended A&M and played tennis for the Aggies.
Still, it was not a given that Brett would follow in his parents footsteps and attend A&M.
"It was not an easy sell," Joelson said. "I looked at Georgia and Texas. I wanted to look around and see what other schools had to offer. It came down between Georgia and A&M."
Joelson, who was living with his father in Oregon at the time, said both his parents did their best to persuade him to chose the Aggies.
"I lived with my dad, so my mom wanted me to come to A&M because she lived in Austin," he said. "My dad said he was going to stay out of it. But when it came down to the very end, all of a sudden he would throw out little hints that he wanted me to come here."
NOTES - The A&M-OSU winner will advance to face the winner of the Baylor-Nebraska match at 7 p.m. Saturday.
• Tim Schnettler's e-mail address is email@example.com.