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Q&A With Men's Tennis

Head coach John Hirte talks with his team during a practice in fall 2020. (photo credit: Joel Dahms/Athletic Marketing)
Head coach John Hirte talks with his team during a practice in fall 2020. (photo credit: Joel Dahms/Athletic Marketing)

LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- The Covenant men's tennis program has enjoyed much success in head coach John Hirte's tenure with a pair of USA South West Division regular season titles and regional rankings for both the team and individuals. 

The 2020-21 team looks to climb the USA South West ladder once again. The Scots, coming off a COVID-shortened season in 2020 with a 5-3 record, return seven players from last year's squad. Five newcomers have joined the team to round out a talented and deep roster for Hirte.

Get to know some of those players and what makes the Covenant men's tennis program, and Covenant College, so special.

What were some of the deciding factors in your decision to attend Covenant?

Cameron Cortman (Jr., Dacula, Ga.): Playing collegiate tennis was definitely a priority when I began the college search process. When I visited campus, I was overtaken with a feeling of home. The sense of community that I experienced was unlike any other college that I visited, which was a main factor in my decision. Additionally, going to a school that was serious about their Christian beliefs and where I knew the students pushed each other to grow closer to Christ was something I really wanted.

Gill Dunn (So., Heath, Texas): I always wanted to attend a Christian college and after being recruited by Coach Hirte and visiting the campus I fell in love with Covenant. I wanted to go to a college that had a strong community and Covenant offered that plus I was going to play college tennis which was a huge dream of mine. Also, the campus is on top of a mountain, how can you beat that?

Andrew Graham (Fr., Dallas, Texas): There were three main ones: the top-notch academics, the ability to continue my tennis career, and the fact that I had friends that I had known from back home in Dallas living in Chattanooga that I was excited about being able to reconnect with.

What are your favorite parts about being a Covenant student and a member of the men's tennis team?

Ben Luke (Jr., Greenwood, S.C.): I love the emphasis on relational commitment within the tennis team and the larger community. I'd still have to say that this is my favorite part. I love that the members of the tennis team aren't just teammates, but we're all friends.

Tyler Kelly (Jr., Douglasville, Ga.): My favorite part about being a Covenant student is that I get to see how scripture impacts what I am learning in the classroom. My favorite part about being a member of the men's tennis team is getting to play tennis in a team atmosphere.

Paxton Haggerty (Sr., Branchville, N.J.): My favorite parts of Covenant are the numerous different types of communities. We have our halls, classes, sports, clubs, etc., and in each of those a different community. The tennis team, I would say, as well as my hall, have become more like family over the years. For the last three-and-a-half years I've had the opportunity to call these guys my brothers.

Camden Lashley (Fr., Macon, Ga.): I love knowing that I have a wide range of people who genuinely care about me and my walk with Christ, as well as a team who will both challenge and uplift me.

What would you tell high school players about Covenant?

Cortman: Covenant isn't just another small, private, liberal arts college. Although it is those things, it is so much more. If you are looking to play tennis at a highly competitive level and be surrounded by people who encourage you and challenge you, then Covenant is the place for you. I have grown so much as a player, student, and disciple of Christ in my time at Covenant. One of my friends used to talk about competing for an "audience of One", which I think perfectly suits the goal of Covenant athletics. We are not playing for the trophies or titles, we are playing to bring glory to God. We do all of this while still being very successful across all of our athletic programs.

Lashley: Come visit us! There truly is no place like Lookout Mountain, Ga. Getting to know the players/campus on a personal level is important!

Kelly: I would tell high school players that Covenant Tennis is a program where we grow as players AND believers.

Luke: I would tell them that Covenant isn't just a place to get an education (although it certainly is academically rigorous), but it's a place to grow as an individual. Covenant promotes spiritual growth, as well as relational growth with those around you. I think it embodies well the liberal arts emphasis on developing well-rounded individuals; it's not just limited to intellectual growth.

Jeb Barnette (Fr., Clarkesville, Ga.): Most beautiful place to play college tennis. All around great, high energy, hard-working environment.

Favorite professor at Covenant? Favorite class?

Dunn: My favorite professor is [Steve] Corbett who happens to be my advisor. He is one of the professors for the community development program, and he just has the biggest heart for the poor.

Graham: It would probably be Dr. [Hans] Madueme. He's has a real gift for leading good class discussions and even though I'm not much of a talker, every time I went into class I was always able to learn so much from him about a wide variety of things.

Haggerty: My favorite professors at Covenant would be Dr. [Robert Erle] Barham and Dr. [Hans] Madueme. I have had nothing but incredible experiences with them and their classes. Class-wise, Dr. Madueme's Doctrine I was probably the most influential class I have ever taken.

What is it like to play for Coach Hirte?

Cortman: Coach Hirte was one of the main reasons I was drawn to Covenant. From my very first conversation with him when I met him at a high school tennis tournament, I could tell that he had a passion for Covenant and for the guys on the team. If I could think of one word to describe Coach Hirte, it would be intentionality. Since he coaches both the men's and the women's teams and serves as an assistant athletic director, he is a very busy person, yet he is so intentional about his time and his relationship with his players. He wants to know how everyone is doing beyond superficial things. I think he has been such a successful coach because he draws players who are talented through showing his expertise of the game of tennis, but more importantly, showing his passion for his guys that does not end with a conference title. He cares for us through the wins and the losses all the same and wants us to grow into better disciples of Christ.

Luke: Playing for Coach Hirte is great! He always makes sure that we are working towards a goal and knows how to make practices productive and fun. But he also makes sure that we stay concentrated and focused because he knows how essential it is in building a successful team.

Kelly: Playing for Coach Hirte is exciting because he gives us the freedom to develop our game in the ways that we want. We get to plan our own practices and workouts. It's also super cool that he is a Covenant alum, and built the program himself. There is a lot of history already that we get to contribute to every time we step on the court.

Haggerty: Playing for coach Hirte is a big selling factor. He does an incredible job of treating players uniquely to their personality and circumstances. He's the furthest thing from a cookie-cutter coach. Also, after personally attempting to be a coach for a day at practice, I learned first-hand just how hard it is to be a coach. However, Coach plans well and cares immensely for his players. 

Lashley: I don't think I've ever met a coach more patient and wise beyond his years as Coach Hirte. He constantly challenges us to elevate our intensity at practices while also building an atmosphere of camaraderie and fun on the court.

Barnette: It's been a true blessing to play for coach Hirte. He is such an all-around great guy and loves pouring his love and knowledge of the game of tennis into all of the guys on the team.

Dunn: It has been an utter blessing to play for Coach Hirte. He is extremely caring and gracious while also being a strong and strict Coach on the court. He is noticeably clear in what he communicates and is strong in who he is as a character which is very respectable. I can never ask more of a Coach and a leader in my life.

Graham: It's really great. He's super competitive, very passionate, and really cares very much for his players not only in regards to tennis but in their academic and personal lives as well.

What was your most memorable match at Covenant?

Haggerty: The first match that comes to my mind was playing UTC my sophomore year. I was playing 2nd singles and had to borrow a teammate's racket since all of my strings were broken. I ended up losing in 2-6 2-6 in an almost two-hour match. I was incredibly proud of how I played and impressed that I didn't just get smoked by the DI player. Having only started playing tennis my freshman year of high school, that match just showed me how far I had come. This match was also one of the first matches I played after my mom passed away, and she was the entire reason I started playing tennis in the first place. Even though I lost, this match was a milestone. I mainly walked away hoping I made my mom proud.

Cortman: My most memorable match was playing Birmingham Southern at home my sophomore year. One of our players is a transfer from BSC, and we had never beaten them in the history of the program. We knew it was going to be a good match because both of our teams were solid. We ended up beating them, and my match clinched the win for us. That was definitely a match I will never forget.

Dunn: For sure the historic win over BSC for that was special, for our team came together and beat a team that we have never beaten before. It was awesome to hear Cam cry out the win for the team, very memorable.

What impact has Covenant had on you?

Haggerty: Covenant has given me an entirely new perspective on life. It has given me friends, was my first glimpse at what community really is, and taught me how to pursue what I'm called to no matter how impractical it sounds. If the Lord calls you, you trust Him and answer.

Cortman: Covenant has shaped my thinking and molded me in so many ways. All of the professors are highly intelligent and bring so much knowledge to the classroom, so I have grown so much as a student. Beyond that, everyone in the Covenant community shares the same goal of bringing glory to God, which is why it is such a special place. All the work we are doing in the classroom and on the court is not for our own glory, but for the glory of God. I have grown in every aspect of my life because of Covenant College, and for that, I am forever grateful.

Luke: Covenant has had a significant impact not only on my intellectual growth but on my spiritual and individual growth also. I feel like it has helped me prepare well for life after college, whatever that may look like. It has also given me friendships that I know will last a lifetime. I know Covenant has forced me to grow in more ways than I anticipated when I first came here as a freshman—all in ways that I am very thankful for.

Kelly: Covenant has completely changed my outlook on life. My faith is stronger than it has ever been, and the Covenant community has definitely been a catalyst in that. Attending Covenant was the clear decision that God had for me.


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