For the Tennessee Volunteers tennis team, the final two matches of the regular season against the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers are rapidly approaching, and just like every other collegiate sport that means the road is coming to an end for the seniors on the team.
As the weekend makes its way closer and closer, seniors Taylor Patrick, Edward Jones and John Collins understand that these two matches at the Goodfriend Tennis Center will be their final SEC matchups of their UT careers.
"It means a lot," Jones said. "I've seen how much it means to the previous seniors I've been on the team with. Hopefully, we are going to have a couple more matches at home with the first couple rounds of the NCAAs, but these definitely mean a lot being the last SEC home matches for me."
For Patrick, who is a redshirt senior and has been on the team for five years, he said his time here at the university and on the team has helped him grow as a person and prepared him for life outside of these campus borders.
"(I've grown) a ton," Patrick said. "Obviously, I've grown on the tennis court, that's a given, but off the court my leadership skills have grown, I've become a lot more mature, I'm more responsible and just all the things that come with being a student-athlete that you just have to get used to as the years go on. ...
"I feel like being here with all the stuff we go through, all the hard work we put in has just really prepared me to go out into the real world and succeed."
The Vols have had a stellar year, recording 19 wins with only 7 losses while going 6-4 in the SEC, which puts them third in the conference. With all their success, all three of the seniors are extremely proud of what they've been able to accomplish as a team this year.
"I've been on a couple of teams here that have been really good," Patrick said. "I think we were No. 1 in the country at one point, top three another time, but No. 6 in the country with this team honestly means the most because the guys on this team aren't all-stars, but we are all good players and we just fight really hard and have a ton of heart and we are always there for each other."
Being No. 10 in the country, the Vols are legitimate contenders to not only win the SEC Championship but the NCAA Championship as well. For Collins, who is playing his first and only year here at UT after he transferred from the University of Maryland this summer after their program got cut, winning a championship with this team would be really special.
"It would be awesome. I don't know what team wouldn't want to do that, but with this group of guys it would be something really special," Collins said.
Nobody understands the importance of these three seniors more than head coach Sam Winterbotham, who believes that they are just as valuable to what they bring to the future of the program as they are on the court.
"It seems that we say it every year, but that group that leaves us is the connection to the class prior," Winterbotham said. "... You just can't adequately explain what seniors mean to your program, their experience and their ability to share their knowledge with their teammates. The guys that have made it here to this point have put blood, sweat and tears into this program and they've laid the foundation and were so proud of them."