April 23, 2014
By Craig Chval ’15
Sporting a goatee and a self-professed ability to ramble, Billy Pecor fits the mold for the tennis team’s fatherly elder statesman. The 6’2 senior talks about things like being vocal, bringing energy and reading vibes off teammates.
With the knowledge that individual matches are decided by more than the play on the court, he ensures the Irish have a competitive advantage on the sideline, as well, by getting his teammates involved in supporting each other.
When you watch a Notre Dame tennis match, there’s a good chance if Pecor’s not playing, you can find him cheering on another Irish player.
“I’m a very vocal guy, and that’s one of the roles I’ve taken on during the dual season especially,” he says. “Just being very loud and get the guys pumped up, get the energy going, and just making sure we keep that energy from start to finish because you know that’s when the guys are playing their best.
“I play my best when I bring that energy. I’m very vocal and very loud out there, so it’s kind of contagious. Once one person gets going, a few more people will get going. And then by the end of the match, especially this season, it’s shown that everyone’s one big unit and it’s really loud – not really obnoxious, but loud in a good way – and everyone’s really feeding off that.”
Pecor witnessed the importance of that role at the Wake Forest match April 4, in which sophomore Eric Schnurrenberger played the final match on the road during a 3-3 tie.
He noticed Schnurrenberger had won his first set and was winning the second set, but his opponent was gaining ground.
“The Wake Forest crowd was really crazy – there were a lot of frat guys there,” Pecor describes. “All of a sudden the crowd was starting to go pretty crazy over there, and then you saw the score, and Eric was starting to slip a little bit. I didn’t think it was anything Eric was changing necessarily, but his opponent was starting to get a lot of the momentum shift because the crowd was starting to get really loud and obnoxious.”
“So I instantly knew once Eric had gotten broken, O.K., I’ve got to go over there and try to get the momentum to either stop shifting the other direction or get back the momentum to Eric’s side. So I started to get really loud and obnoxious – well not obnoxious but vocal and tried to get Eric to stay focused on what he was doing.
“That was a pretty cool feeling knowing that you hopefully had some effect on getting him back into the match and eventually winning it.”
Schnurrenberger won the match in a third-set tiebreak, and Pecor recognized when he could use vocal support early on. As a leader, he understands the importance of reading teammates and situations to offer the best support.
“I just try to be that vocal leader to teammates, be positive, be energetic,” he explains. “It’s just something that you’ve got to feel your way into how you should go about being that leader to them in that moment. You kind of get a vibe from them – if it’s a good vibe or a bad vibe, how to react to that.
“If they’re quiet, if they’ve got their head down or something, try to give them a pat on the back. Get them pumped up, get their head up, try to get them going again. You don’t have to do that as much if they’re upbeat, positive, happy in the first place.”
Pecor’s leadership especially counts in doubles, where he currently plays No. 1 with sophomore Alex Lawson. However, he spent most of the year in the No. 2 slot with freshman Josh Hagar, who teamed up for a 9-4 record in the spring.
“Playing with Josh, it’s a senior-freshman combination – it’s pretty interesting because you’ve got to take on that role as that leader,” Pecor says. “Especially if there’s a pressure situation and he might get a little tired, the senior’s got to be the one that has the experience just to kind of say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going to happen. If we do this, we’re going to get this win.’
“But it’s also really cool to see the senior-freshman dynamic because the senior sometimes might get a little too crazy or get a little upset when something happens, and the freshman was the one who would sometimes keep him in track a little bit. You might think it would be the other way around, but in my case with Josh, I like to get a little crazy sometimes with my serving play calls, and Josh will be the one to say, ‘No, this is what’s been working. Let’s keep with what’s been working instead of mixing it up.'”
If Pecor exudes experience now, next year should make him an especially stabilizing force for the rest of the team. After sitting out the spring season of his freshman year with an injury, Pecor has an extra year of eligibility to come back for a fifth year in 2014-’15.
“You already get this feeling that we’ve got something really special with this team next year,” he says. “It’s definitely going to be sad that you’ve got three awesome guys that are leaving the team, but at the same time we’re picking up a few more guys and you kind of have an obligation to be like, ‘Hey, now I’m going to be a fifth-year senior on the team, and I’m really going to have to step into a role and lead the team and hopefully carry on what we’ve had this season and start it off the right way next season.'”
Not looking too far ahead, though, Pecor and the rest of the Irish tennis players have their sights set on the ACC Championships, which begin today, April 23, and the NCAA Tournament two weeks later. Notre Dame is seeded fourth in the ACC tournament and ranked 13th in the nation.
“Going into conference and the end of the season, it’s something that you really feel like you can really lay it all out on the line,” Pecor describes. “The ACC is one of the strongest conferences, if not the strongest conference, in tennis. You’ve got countless teams in the top 15 right now. It’s tough – it’s going to be a battle.
“Once the season’s over, we want to say that we left it all out there and there’s no regrets – we did everything to prepare the right way, we did everything in our power to follow the process. Our coaches keep mentioning this process – making sure we’re doing the right things every single day, every single ball we hit is hit with purpose. We’re bringing the energy every single day, so that’s kind of the mindset we’re bringing into these last couple tournaments.”