Chase Hodges, the first tennis coach Georgia Gwinnett College has ever had, is clearly comfortable in the environment he helped build. “We’ll play anybody, anytime, anywhere!” he yells as we began a tour of the facility, a former country club less than a mile away from the main buildings of the Lawrenceville campus that boasts 12 courts, three of which are clay. A former player at North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Hodges left coaching at Georgia State seven years ago to start Georgia Gwinnett’s tennis program.
“Seven years, that’s kind of a sleeping giant in regards to what we have done here,” he says. “I honestly feel like we are one of the best programs in all of college tennis, regardless the division.”
He’s not wrong. The Grizzlies’s record is nothing short of impressive, particularly for such a young program: 11 NAIA national titles—five for the women’s team and six for the men’s. The men’s program has only lost three matches in its history and is currently on a 109-match win streak, the longest active streak in collegiate men’s tennis. That means Hodges is currently a remarkable 272-22 (151-3 in men’s matches) as a coach.
“We have a big target on our backs, but the expectations are really high here,” Hodges says, who’s never had a losing record during his 20-plus-year coaching career that took him from Longwood University in Virginia to the University of Asheville in North Carolina to Drake University in Des Moines before landing in Georgia. “We aren’t putting up banners for second place. We are playing to win the whole thing.”
The Grizzlies have several advantages not often seen in NAIA programs, among them, a budget that allows the coaches to recruit internationally. While there is no basketball team or football program, the college clearly invests in the programs it does have: the Grizzlies baseball, softball, and men’s and women’s soccer teams were all ranked among the top 10 last season.
“They players we recruit know that they are going to compete against the best and that they will be taken care of,” Hodges says. “And when they leave us, sometimes they pass the word on.”
That word-of-mouth has helped recruit players from Austria, Finland, Argentina, Germany, Italy, Paraguay, and Spain. “We have a very diverse roster,” Hodges says, “Tennis is a global sport. You have to be able to recruit overseas.”
And while the program may not pick up the headlines its Division I counterparts do, Hodges is confident in his team’s ability. “We have never lost to a Division I program on the men’s side,” he says. “I’d love to play the [men’s Division I] national champions in order to give us the opportunity to see where we stack up against the best.”
The Grizzlies upcoming season begins this Friday, and Hodges has signaled that he’s not leaving the program anytime soon. “From my standpoint, this is a place where I can win and win big,” he says. “We are a program that can compete with anyone in the country.”