Farris Gosea’s unlikely road to the top
April 30, 2014
Editor’s note: The Daily Illini sports desk sits down Sunday nights and decides which Illinois athlete or coach is our Illini of the Week. Athletes and coaches are evaluated by individual performance and contribution to team success.
Farris Gosea has taken a far different path to Illinois than any other student-athlete on campus. Coming from Cardiff, Wales, Gosea hadn’t met head coach Brad Dancer until he arrived on campus for the first time as a freshman. Dancer also had never seen Gosea play live before he committed.
Although Gosea’s path to Illinois has made for an unconventional story, his junior year has been the most important chapter. This past weekend Gosea was named first-team all-Big Ten and was also chosen as the Big Ten Player of the Year.
After struggling greatly in his freshman and sophomore seasons, this season has brought Gosea’s story full-circle for both him and the Illinois coaching staff.
“It feels great to finally put freshman and sophomore years behind me, where I was always questioning myself, am I good enough? Will I ever be able to go pro? To be able to put that behind me and just see that all the hard work that I’ve put in has shown that I am good enough now and really going on to play pro is definitely a viable option for me, is really a fantastic thing for me mentally,” Gosea said.
Coming halfway across the world to play college tennis was hard enough already for Gosea, who had to adjust to a new life and being far away from his family. His expectations also got the best of him coming in.
“Coming over, it was so tough for me I think because I really underestimated the level (of play). I expected to come in and maybe be playing top three in the lineup,” Gosea said.
Things didn’t quite work the way Gosea had once imagined, as he played primarily at the bottom of the lineup in his first two seasons.
The preseason rankings that came out this past September didn’t have Gosea ranked in the nation’s top-125 singles players, after last year’s struggles. The rankings released in January at the beginning of the dual-match season slotted Gosea at No. 106. Gosea essentially became a one-man wrecking crew this season to prove everyone wrong. He’s currently No. 17 nationally and spent the better part of the past two months in the top 15.
According to the coaching staff, Gosea’s huge jump can be credited completely to the work he’s done both on and off the court.
“No. 1 thing is fitness. He’s just a lot stronger, his stamina and endurance are considerably higher,” Dancer said. “Patience, he’s got a lot of patience now where he didn’t used to and he’s controlling the tempo of the point so much better.”
At the beginning of the season, some of Gosea’s teammates were receiving the majority of the attention and respect. Jared Hiltzik was the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year and the duo of Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski was ranked top-five in doubles.
This could have caused Gosea to be overlooked by opponents early on, but now the Big Ten knows him all too well for one reason: He didn’t lose to any of them. Gosea ran the table in conference play, finishing a perfect 10-0 in the first and second singles spots, making him a virtual lock for conference player of the year.
Gosea became the first Illini to win Big Ten Player of the Year since Kevin Anderson received the honor in 2007. Being mentioned in the same category as Anderson is quite the honor within the Illinois program, as Anderson is currently the No. 19 singles player in the world professionally.
Gosea will be looking to be put in the same category as Anderson again this season, but for a different reason. Anderson led the Illini to a national runner-up finish in his junior season and reached the national semifinals as a singles player.
“My goal was to eventually finish top-10 in the country and maybe win NCAAs, so to be really close to that right now is definitely a huge thing for me. I keep looking back at the beginning of the year to where I was and it just shows all the work I’ve put in has really paid off,” Gosea said.
Brett can be reached at [email protected] and @Blerner10.