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March 13, 2007

By Nicholas Esares, USC Media Relations

With nine men on the roster and only six playing slots to fill each match, the University of South Carolina men’s tennis players are in constant competition vying for a starting spot. Redshirt sophomore and Greenwood native Thomas Stoddard is certainly no stranger to battling for the right to play.

“My personal goal for this year would be to play in the top six and to play in the doubles lineup,” said Stoddard, who is already becoming a factor in the 2007 season.” We have four new freshmen who came in, and they are all really good, so we will see; it’s going to be a dog fight down at the bottom.”

For Stoddard, the competitive nature of college tennis is vastly different from his playing days at Greenwood High, where he won a state championship in 2004, capping an undefeated season.

“In high school I was in control pretty much every match,” said Stoddard. “So many of the younger players were not as big, not as strong, not as fast as me.”

After coming to USC Stoddard had to make an adjustment to the higher level of competitions.

“When I came to school, I wasn’t used to this pace. I’m used to it now but, when I first got here, they hit the ball too hard for me,” said Stoddard. “They were relaxed and it didn’t really bother them, but for me, I was always jumping around, going crazy.”

Stoddard played in a few fall matches during his freshman year, but missed the spring schedule after a shoulder injury.

Things began to look better for Stoddard during the 2006 campaign. Stoddard was able to play in every SEC match during the season and logged most of his time at the No. 5 and No. 6 singles positions. The highlight of the season for Stoddard was a victory at No. 3 doubles, that was necessary for Carolina to clinch the close 4-3 match against Auburn. After the schools split the first two doubles matches Stoddard teamed with Joseph Veeder to win the deciding match and the opening point, 8-5.

The 2007 season looks to be a breakout year for Stoddard who got off to a fast 4-0 start in singles play. The sophomore has also seen significant time at third doubles and has more recently played at second doubles. In Carolina’s 4-3 victory over Mississippi State March 2, Stoddard once again teamed with Veeder to at win an important doubles match that would prove necessary in the close victory.

The duo also claimed an impressive victory in South Carolina’s match against the always-strong Tennessee Volunteers. With the match going back and froth, until it was tied at eight all, the pair stepped up their game pulling out a 9-8 tiebreaker win.

“I played well in my first couple of matches so I’m pretty confident I’ll get my chances.”

In addition to a solid performance on the court, Stoddard also stands out on the Gamecock roster for another reason. Stoddard is the only member of the team from the Palmetto State.

“Me being the only guy on the team from South Carolina is pretty cool,” said Stoddard. “Its something that people kind of recognizes me for.”

Having a native of South Carolina also benefits the Gamecocks in other ways. Stoddard considers himself a resource among some of the other players on the team, especially when four Gamecocks are from outside the country.

“I can help the guys on the team get used to the way things are here, to help them adapt a little better.”

Although Stoddard is happy to be playing for the Garnett and Black, the decision to come to Columbia was not always definite.

“My whole family went to Clemson,” said Stoddard. “I grew up a Clemson fan, so naturally I looked at Clemson.”

Stoddard said that a number of reasons lead to him coming to South Carolina.

“I just seemed to fit in better with the tennis program here,” said Stoddard. “They had a spot for me and I knew that I would get a chance to contribute.