When graduate student Ryan Seggerman was first recruited by UNC men's tennis coach Sam Paul, neither of them imagined that it would take four years for Seggerman to make his debut as a Tar Heel.
Paul, who is not one to commonly use the transfer portal, decided to make an exception for Seggerman. The UNC tennis program had initially courted the top-15 recruit when he was in high school over four years ago, but Seggerman opted to commit to Princeton University instead.
Now, everything has come full circle.
Seggerman, who is a recent graduate of Princeton, made the decision last winter to transfer to UNC to play in his fifth season. In the Ivy League, players cannot compete as athletes beyond their four years of undergraduate study — so Seggerman had to enter the portal if he wanted to keep playing.
“The fifth year was a silver lining of COVID,” Seggerman said. “I wanted to use (the fifth year) to play for a school that, one, was of good academic caliber, and two, (a school) that was pushing for some higher goals.”
With recent success in doubles play at ITA events, the former two-time All-Ivy League doubles competitor has already begun to work his way toward those higher goals at UNC.
On Oct. 5, at the ITA All-American Championships, Seggerman was paired with fellow graduate student Brian Cernoch, a returning three-time All-American.
It was not always Paul’s intention to pair the two graduate students up for doubles play, but rather, it was something that developed as the season pressed on.
Cernoch has been a top player for the Tar Heels just as Seggerman was for Princeton last season. Paul knew they were both talented players with invaluable experience, so he put them together.
“[The graduate transfers provide] a lot of experience,” Paul said. "They’ve played a lot of matches. It helps you a lot. That’s probably, sadly, the only good thing to come out of COVID — you get really good players that have a lot of experience.”
At the ITA All-American Championships, the first tournament in which the two college veterans had played doubles together, the pair picked up three top-20 wins en route to the championship match.
“The fact that we were able to do that and get to the finals of such a prestigious event with really not much practice together under our belts was a good sign heading into the season,” Cernoch said. “I think our games just complemented each other on the court.”
Cernoch and Seggerman eventually fell in the doubles final of the ITA All-American main draw to Toby Samuel and Connor Thomson of South Carolina. Despite this loss, Cernoch and Seggerman hope their immediate success will prove paramount moving forward.
“We won our first couple of matches not really feeling like we were clicking necessarily in terms of both playing well at the same time,” Seggerman said. “We won a couple of matches close, and just walked off the court feeling that we had a lot more that we could do. That helped us, as the tournament went on, to keep each other fired up. Like, man, if we can fire at the same times, I think that we could do something pretty special.”
The pair didn’t have the same success in the ITA Fall National Championships in San Diego, California. The duo fell in the consolation round of 16 of doubles play and Seggerman dropped in the consolation quarterfinals in singles play.
As the season presses on, Seggerman hopes to use his time at UNC to his advantage as he keeps chasing those higher goals.
“I’m trying to maximize what I can do in the tennis world,” Seggerman said. “The coaches here have done a good job of helping me believe in myself more and my game. That’s something that I want to push myself on this year and see what I can do on the collegiate scene.”
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