Small in Size, Tall on Honors
April 30, 2008
by Jeff Smith
Bryan Koniecko was a talented junior tennis standout that once thought that he might skip college and turn professional straight out of high school. He was competing in junior tournaments in the Australian Open and Wimbledon and was among the top 10 junior players in the United States. Some of the players he defeated on the junior tours are now ranked among the top 100 in the world. Still, it is believed that several colleges passed on Koniecko because of his small stature.
Ohio State's Ty Tucker believed all along that Koniecko possessed the talent to become a great college tennis player, despite his 5-foot-9, 145-pound frame. He stayed in touch often with his recruit and when it came time to announce his future, Koniecko opted for college and the Buckeyes were his first and only choice.
"When I was younger, I wasn't sure what I was going to do," Koniecko said. "I didn't get too many offers in my senior year, but Ty was always there. He had a lot of confidence in me when a lot of schools didn't see me as a top player."
Now a junior in Columbus, all Koniecko has done to date is be named an All-American, a three-time All-Conference honoree, the 2006 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and just recently, the 2008 Big Ten Athlete of the Year.
So much for being too small.
Koniecko is the Buckeyes' first recipient to earn the conference's top honor since Vince Ng in 2003. Currently ranked 17th in the country, Koniecko has posted back-to-back undefeated conference dual season campaigns and has won his last 17 matches. He is 31-7 in singles play and 33-3 in doubles competition. This season Koniecko has also helped the second-ranked Buckeyes to their third straight Big Ten Championship and the No. 2 overall seed in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
Currently Ohio State is 32-1 on the season, having suffered its lone loss to No. 1 Virginia back in February.
One of OSU's key leaders, Koniecko has been a model of consistency over his career. He says he stays motivated by not letting himself feel content.
"I think it's just about setting goals for yourself, trying to get better each year," Koniecko said. "A lot of guys in college are just happy with where they are, but I am also trying improve in the dual seasons and rankings. That has kept me working hard over the past three years."
Koniecko admits that his size has always been a sense of motivation for him, having people hint to him that he was too small to make an impact on the college and pro levels.
Not only was it important for both Koniecko show improvement in the weight room when he stepped foot on campus, he also showed he was capable of playing on the court as well.
As a freshman he was 29-15 in singles action and 25-6 in doubles play. He was tabbed the conference's Freshman of the Year and was the lone newcomer to be named to the All-Conference team.
Tucker was the least bit surprised.
"Bryan is a big-time player. We recruited him to do some big-time things here," Tucker said. "Even watching him in the juniors, he was always a class above. He has certainly worked his tail off and has taken a serious interest in becoming the best player he can be."
Koniecko quickly grasped that the biggest different between junior and college tennis was the power and strength that college tennis demands. He put an immediate focus on getting stronger and spent most of his freshman year conditioning.
Having grown up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Koniecko first picked up the tennis racket at the age of 6. He played mostly with his father and his friends until he became more competitive at the age of 10. He moved to Long Island when he was 14 and was much more involved in club tennis and began competing on the junior circuit.
Tennis has always been in the family blood. In fact, Koniecko's younger brother Emil is a freshman on the Buckeyes' squad.
"We hang out together all the time," the elder Koniecko said. "It was nice for him to come with me. It's a big school here so I've been able to show him around."
Last year as a sophomore, Koniecko was tabbed an All-American after finishing the season ranked 15th nationally with a 29-11 singles record and a 30-4 mark in doubles action. He helped the team to an appearance in the NCAA Quarterfinals, however the loss to end the season was disappointing for the Buckeyes, who finished the 2007 season ranked third nationally. It was the same result for them in 2006 as well, losing in the quarterfinals and finishing fifth in the country.
This season, however, Ohio State is poised to make a serious run at the national championship. The Buckeyes learned of their scenic route to the finals on Tuesday as the NCAA Championships bracket was announced.
Koniecko says that ever since he stepped foot on campus, winning a national championship has been the goal.
"We have had unbelievable seasons since my freshman year, but the last two quarterfinals you could say we had some bad luck," he said. "I think being a junior now, and as our team has gotten older, we will be ready for NCAAs this year and know what to expect."
Tucker has praised his junior standout, saying that he is an impressive ballstriker who can hold the baseline well and does not back up at all on the court. Koniecko makes up for his lack of size with his intelligence on the court.
"Sometimes he can go for the wrong shot and the wrong time," says Tucker, "but you still have a guy whose 5-foot-9 and a big-time player."
When Koniecko first began his journey, he felt the professional ranks would be the way to go. Looking back now as a junior, he knows he made the right decision in coming to college. Not only as he improved his game and strength, but he is also focused on earning his degree in communications.
"I think one nice thing about (attending college) is getting that degree and taking the pressure off," he said. "You don't have to make it professionally to have a life. I'll have a degree to fall back on."
Koniecko has made the most out of his decision to take the college route. Not only will he have a degree when he graduates, but he will have proven to all the critics that guys under six feet can also have some success in college tennis.
When he does finally make it to the professional tour, Koniecko will have laurels such as All-American, Athlete of the Year, Freshman of the Year, All-Conference and graduate bolstered on his resume.
And hopefully before his time is up in Columbus, he'll have two more words to add to the list as well.