After leading the UGA men’s tennis team to both the SEC regular season and tournament championships, Head coach Manuel Diaz has been named the 2017 SEC Coach of the Year.
In addition, Nathan Ponwith has been tabbed the league’s Freshman of the Year. Both honors were announced on Wednesday by the league office.
The Coach and Freshman of the Year honors for Diaz and Ponwith highlight a strong Georgia contingent on the All-SEC list. Four players — Ponwith, Wayne Montgomery, Jan Zielinski and Robert Loeb — earned First-Team All-SEC accolades, while 2017 SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player Emil Reinberg was named Second-Team All-SEC. Ponwith also placed on the SEC All-Freshman Team.
It marks the fourth time in school history Georgia has had four players make the first-team list. Ponwith is only the third Bulldog since 2004 to win the SEC Freshman of the Year Award, joining John Isner in 2004 and current teammate Montgomery in 2015.
“It is truly humbling to be honored by my peers and some of the best people this profession has to offer,” Diaz said. “I want to first of all thank all the SEC coaches for voting on this award and for all they do for the game of tennis. Second, I think it is evident by the amount of guys we had earn All-SEC honors that this award is because of them. Each and every player has bought into what we have aimed to do this year. This young team matured all season long and accomplished something that does not come easy in this league in winning both the regular season and tournament titles. We still have a long way to go this season, but I am so proud of where this group of young men has already taken us.”
Diaz, who was inducted into the state of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year, led his team to its 28th SEC championship in 29 seasons as head coach. This marks the sixth time in Diaz’s remarkable career that he has won the SEC Coach of the Year Award, with the last coming in 2007. The San Juan, Puerto Rico native has compiled a 669-147 (.820) record during his head coaching career in Athens and has led the Bulldogs to four NCAA National Championships (1999, 2001, 2007 and 2008). This year, he has taken a lineup that features five underclassmen and led them to the squad’s fifth-straight SEC regular season title, while the team won its first conference tournament championship since 2013.
Part of Diaz’s success this year has been the play of Ponwith, who came to Athens as the nation’s No. 1 prospect. The Scottsdale, Arizona, native developed quickly, progressively moving up from the No. 4 singles spot to the No. 1 court as the season went along. Ponwith has been instrumental in Georgia’s success and broke the SEC record by winning SEC Freshman of the Week five times in a single season. Ponwith is 20-11 in singles this year, including a 4-4 mark at the top position.
Another Bulldog freshman, Robert Loeb, has been pivotal to Georgia’s impressive run. He has teamed with sophomore Jan Zielinski to form the nation’s No. 2 ranked doubles duo and a tandem that many suspect will be No. 1 when the rankings come out later this week. Loeb and Zielinski boast a 15-8 record at the top doubles court and have knocked off three top-5 teams this season.
Joining Ponwith, Loeb and Zielinski on the first-team list is Montgomery, who has been Georgia’s leader this season. He has now earned All-SEC First-Team honors in each of his three seasons as a Bulldog, adding to his long list of accomplishments that includes a SEC Freshman of the Year Award in 2015 and a NCAA All-Tournament Team nod a season ago. The Somerset West, South Africa native is 7-2 at the No. 2 singles court this season and has teamed with Walker Duncan for an 11-1 record at the No. 3 doubles spot.
On the second-team list is Reinberg, who has had an eventful week for the Bulldogs. He earned SEC Tournament MVP after clinching Georgia’s championship match with a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6) victory to cap off the week by going 3-0 in singles and 2-1 in doubles. Overall, Reinberg paces the team in singles wins with 32 total for the year.
Georgia is now set for the NCAA Championships, beginning with the first and second rounds on May 12-13 in Athens. The Bulldogs will take on Florida A&M in the first round on Friday, May 12 at 2 p.m., while South Florida will face Duke earlier in the day at 11 a.m. The winners of those two matches will meet on Saturday, May 13, at 3 p.m. The Round of 16 and beyond will be held in Athens from May 18-29.