Ecuadorian duo powers men’s tennis team
Agustin Villalba and Diego Alarcon enter the 2011 tennis season as the team’s first and second seeds, respectively, for the second consecutive year. In addition to being solid singles players, the duo could potentially be a strong force as a doubles pair, but they say that’ll never happen because their styles don’t mesh.
Villalba and Alarcon are sophomores from Ecuador who have attended school together since kindergarten. They became best friends in the seventh grade, and, because of sports, have remained close through the years.
Villalba is a calm and quiet player. His body is relaxed and his movements are swift. He wears a navy hat backwards and rips vicious topspin-heavy forehands and backhands from the baseline.
“He always wants to do his best,” Alarcon said. “He doesn’t give any ball up. Even in difficult matches, he tries to succeed and each time gets better and better.”
Alarcon has a fiery personality on the court, said coach Michael Siener. When he plays, his face is scrunched, almost angry looking. His eyes lock onto the ball as he squints through his black, square glasses. He plays with finesse and looks to pounce on his opponents’ mistakes.
He’s focused and vocal, as he constantly yells out Spanish phrases during his matches, such as “ella,” which translates to “she.” Ryan Fassler, a junior tennis player, can’t explain why he does this.
“That’s the thing, it doesn’t make sense,” Fassler said. “That’s just Diego.”
Villalba described his friend as an enthusiastic player.
“He gets really into the game,” Villalba said. “He’s very passionate when he plays.”
Their opposite on-court personalities and extreme competitiveness cause friction when they try to work together as a doubles pair.
“There’s going to be competitiveness anytime you have kids that close in talent,” Siener said. “If you didn’t have that person to push you, you’d get lazy. Their competitiveness pushes each other.”
Alarcon said the duo tries to have a good relationship on the court. Villalba said he tries not to criticize Alarcon’s play, because Villalba knows that if Alarcon were to challenge him, Alarcon could win.
“I know he can beat me,” Villalba said. “So I don’t want to mess with him.”
Siener would like to see them eventually work as a doubles pair, but won’t force them to do so.
“They are both so competitive and want to be so good,” Siener said. “They are two different personalities. They kind of let their emotions show and get on each other’s nerves.”
However, Siener said both players are driven individuals.
“They pour their hearts and souls into practice,” Siener said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more from those kids.”
Villalba and Alarcon played on the same soccer team in the first grade. In middle school, while other boys were becoming more interested in the opposite sex, Villalba and Alarcon just wanted to play soccer.
After both Villalba and Alarcon attended high school at the American School of Quito in Ecuador, Villalba decided to attend Webster University first. He originally wanted to attend Trent University in Ontario, Canada. His top college pick, however, didn’t have a tennis team. Calvin Smith, director of international recruitment, visited the American School of Quito and encouraged students to attend Webster.
When Villalba heard about Webster’s tennis program, he was sold. Alarcon soon followed and, in July 2009, he decided to attend Webster.
Before the first day of practice last year, Siener had never seen Villalba or Alarcon play. Both Siener and members of the team were shocked by Villalba and Alarcon’s talent level. Villalba and Alarcon took over the top two singles spots right away.
“When I first played Agustin and Diego, I knew they were going to be the top two,” Fassler said. “They had great placement of the ball, the ability to move and high-velocity ground strokes.”
In their freshman seasons, Villalba and Alarcon led the Gorloks to a 12-4 record and a 4-1 mark in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Gorloks made it to the postseason tournament championship before falling to Westminster College.
Villalba compiled an 8-5 record in singles, which includes a 3-3 record at No. 1 singles and a 5-2 record at No. 2 singles. Alarcon went 10-5 overall, including a 4-5 record at No. 1 singles and a 6-0 record at No. 2 singles. As a doubles team, Villalba and Alarcon went 3-6.
After falling short last year, the duo wants to lead the men’s tennis team to their first-ever NCAA Division III postseason tournament appearance this season. The Gorloks are off to a 1-0 record, as they defeated Illinois College 8-1 in their season opener.
Whether the Gorloks can reach their goal of winning a SLIAC title will largely depend on how well the Ecuadorian duo can play. Though Villalba and Alarcon may not end up playing together as a doubles team, both players would like nothing more than to end up with a SLIAC championship at the end of the year.
Josh Sellmeyer contributed to this article.