UK Tennis: Catching Up with Former Great Andrew Varga
Dec. 7, 2011
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky men’s tennis program has received tremendous attention for its successes over the past three seasons, all of which is well deserved. Kentucky set a school-record with 29 wins in 2011 en route to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight for only the fourth time in school history, and has hosted the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament for three straight years.
One of the major parts of that success has been the tremendous play of current UK senior Eric Quigley. The native of Pewee Valley, Ky., is a three-time All-American, while his 137 singles wins ranks him third all-time on UK’s career singles wins list. Most recently, Quigley passed legendary UK star Andrew Varga on the career list, who ended his UK career with a 127-52 record.
Quigley passing Varga could be looked at as just another accomplishment in his brilliant career, but it means something more than that. Sometimes those who were here before us get lost in the current generations recent successes. And Varga, who would tell you he is fine with being an afterthought as long as it means UK is having unparalleled success, cannot be overlooked or forgotten for his own contributions to the Wildcat program.
In fact, no one player – or family for that matter – has impacted the Kentucky men’s tennis program more than Andrew Varga and his family. Varga, who spent several successful seasons at Kentucky in the mid-1980s, followed in the footprints of his older brothers John and Paul to Kentucky to cap off one of the greatest family legacies in all of Kentucky sports. (Interesting fact: one of the courts at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex is named after John, Paul and Andrew’s father, Don.)
“Our family has a great deal of pride in what we accomplished for the Kentucky program and what the program gave back to us,” Andrew said in an interview with UK Athletics. “For six consecutive years, one of the Vargas was captain of the team and during those years the program did nothing but grow in performance.”
While all three Varga brothers were proud to wear the blue and white of Kentucky and each made a strong impact on the program, Paul and Andrew had the biggest impact on the court in terms of singles wins. When both ended their collegiate careers in the 1980s, Paul sat first in career singles wins with 144, while Andrew was second with 127. And although both are over 20 years removed from their playing days, their pride in what they were able to accomplish at Kentucky remains strong.
“Obviously, Paul and I are both very proud to be in the top echelon of great players in terms of wins,” Andrew said. “I always remind Paul that I missed a semester because of injury or otherwise, I would have ended up with more wins than him. He always replies to me that it's a lot easier to amass wins while playing at No. 4 and No. 5 singles as opposed to No. 1 and No. 2, where he played during his four years. At that point, the conversation naturally ends.”
However, both Paul and Andrew’s firm grip on the top-two spots has been loosened the past decade due to the impressive talents of Witten and Quigley. Witten, who was a five-time All-American at Kentucky, took the No. 2 spot from Andrew in 2005 when he ended his collegiate career with 141 wins. And, most recently, Quigley, who sits at 137 career singles wins, passed Andrew for third all-time during the 2011 fall season.
But the humility and UK fanatic in Andrew doesn’t view being passed by Witten or Quigley with jealousy. Instead he sees it as confirmation that what he and his family did at Kentucky was set a solid foundation for future success.
“As an alumni of UK tennis and avid fan, I couldn't be more thrilled that Eric has passed me in wins,” Andrew said. “The only way a program grows to greatness is when current players surpass their predecessors. I fully expect to look back one day and see that I'm not even in the top 20 in wins. When that happens, UK will be at the pinnacle of college tennis and everyone who touched the program will be enormously proud. Eric is a great young man and a dominant player in Kentucky tennis for many years. His success at UK makes his overall legacy even stronger than what he created as an outstanding junior tennis player.”
Andrew says whether his name remains in UK annals over the years is irrelevant. What is important is that his time at Kentucky prepared him for life outside of athletics and gave him memories he will never forget.
“No question, my four years at Kentucky playing for Dennis (Emery) as a student-athlete were some of the best in my life,” Andrew said. “We had so many great successes and I was fortunate to be there during the early years of Coach Emery, where we saw great progress every year. Additionally, being able to balance classes with the time and energy commitment involved with the UK tennis program greatly prepared me for life.”
Andrew, who resides in Louisville with his wife and two sons, Will and Jake, currently serves as the chief marketing office for Papa John’s, Inc., a job he says he would have never reached without his experience as a student-athlete at Kentucky.
“As chief marketing officer at Papa John's, I get to work on one of the world's great brands, while living in the wonderful town where I grew up,” Andrew said. “I really believe that a great deal of my experience at UK, both academically and athletically, prepared me to be in this position. So many great life lessons about leadership, overcoming adversity, working as a team, and most importantly, handling yourself with honesty and integrity.”
Andrew, who played professionally for a short period of time in smaller circuits after college, said he continued to play tennis in adult leagues up until 2002. Andrew said he talked Paul into joining him on the courts during that year, but after Paul tore his Achilles and was “laid up” for six months, he decided he needed to hang the racket up as well.
Although now officially removed from the game of tennis as a player and with his name slowly falling down the list of career winners, there is still no questioning that the name Varga – whether John, Paul of Andrew – will always be synonymous with two things: Kentucky and winning.
Whether Andrew sits in fourth of 24th in career wins, his importance to making the UK program what it is today and his excitement for the future of UK tennis is what will forever mark his legacy.