This season, IU men’s tennis has something it hasn’t had in 15 years: the leadership of four seniors.
Payam Ahmadi, Zac Brodney, Bennett Crane and William Piekarsky came in together as freshman, and in their four years at IU they’ve grown as individuals, as a team and as something more.
“It's a brotherhood, it really is,” Ahmadi said.
Like a brotherhood, the relationship has been forged through shared spaces and experiences. It's made moments that go beyond game days and practices and that extend off the court.
The four have lived together for three of their four years at IU. They joined IU together in fall 2016 and are one of the few recruiting classes to remain intact as seniors, a fact that is not lost on them.
Piekarsky said he spoke to his four seniors recently and they believe the 2016 recruiting class is the only one at IU who's remained all four years. It's something he said they take pride in.
“It shows how much we really care about each other and just how tight we are,” Piekarsky said.
They came from across the country, with Brodney from California, Ahmadi from Virginia, Crane from North Carolina and Piekarsky from Bloomington.
For Brodney, those close familial bonds were there almost immediately. As a native of Los Angeles, Brodney traveled the farthest distance to IU and knew from high school friends’ experiences that there was a bit of an adjustment period when going to a school outside of California.
“I kind of bypassed that a little bit by being with such a close-knit group of guys and having them to lean on and just kind of go through the process along with,” Brodney said. “I never felt alone.”
As freshman, they were the start of a new era in IU men’s tennis. Ahmadi, Brodney, Crane and Piekarsky were the first recruits for IU head coach Jeremy Wurtzman, who was hired in December 2014.
“Putting all those guys together I think brings a lot of memories,” Wurtzman said. “Their recruiting trips, all their junior tennis matches that we watched them play and then all of their college matches that we've seen them play. And it's now coming to an end. It’s really like they're one of my own.”
Moving into a leadership role can take some getting used to, especially in a sport that is mostly seen as individual. But the four senior Hoosiers lean on each other when needed.
“It's weird to think that you've got people looking up to you," Ahmadi said. "You know, you're still trying to figure yourself out. I think the beauty of it is because we have each other, we can lean on each other at different times.”
Just because they had been together since they were freshman didn’t mean the transition to leading was easily laid out this year. Wurtzman said it was tricky at the start of the season having four seniors who had all waited their turn to be a leader.
It is their different personalities that have allowed them to help each other adjust to the new role, and provide the team with a variety of leadership styles.
Piekarsky describes himself as the “rah-rah guy,” while Ahmadi and Crane are more approachable when it comes to personal things, and Brodney takes the reins during practice and gameday.
“We can work together to create this culture that we've been building for the past four years and to kind of see it all come to fruition now,” Brodney said. “Hopefully it's already starting to turn around on the court as well, and this is going to be our best season tennis wise, as well as culture and team bonding.”