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GLIAC women’s tennis coach of the year Nikki Wal­bright tells us how she turned around Hillsdale’s tennis program and how ath­letics can mean aca­demic success.

 

How did the team do at the GLIAC tour­nament?

They suc­ceeded beyond expec­tation. After we got to the tour­nament, I really wanted to place higher than we were seeded, and we did. A couple girls also beat oppo­nents they lost to in the regular season. As a coach it’s amazing to see that kind of improvement, even over one weekend.

 

One weekend?

Everyday, the girls went out and gave it their all and we had awesome results. To go out there and do well every day of a weekend is really impressive. Tennis is really fatiguing.

 

So, how do you feel about being named the GLIAC’s coach of the year?

It was quite the sur­prise! I was not expecting it. But the award is reflective on how well your team does, and I could never gotten it without how well the girls did and how hard they pushed them­selves – so I think of it as more of a team award.

 

When did you start playing tennis?

I was four or five years old when I first started playing pee wee tennis. I’ve been playing forever. My mom is actually a tennis coach at a high school back in our hometown [in the Toledo area]. She’s always had a love for it and it’s fun to both be coaching right now.

 

How long have you been coaching?

It seems a lot longer than I guess the actual years go. I’ve been coaching four years at the college level, but have been teaching tennis for 8 – 10 years before that.

 

Why does it seem longer?

In high school, that was kind of my job. I worked at a tennis club and then in college, I played all four years. It adds up quickly.

 

What is one of the greatest struggles in coaching tennis?

It doesn’t actually have that much to do with tennis. It’s being able to really motivate the team. As a coach, my concern is how well we do on court, so if someone is having a bad day, I need to connect with them and help them play their best. It’s hard to see someone struggle or slack when you know that they can do so much better. The great thing about my team here is that they’re all moti­vated. They try really hard and I really connect with them all, so I don’t actually have the chal­lenges you’d usually see.

 

What’s the most enjoyable thing to teach?

Strategy. It’s how you win matches. Just because someone is good as far as their tech­nique doesn’t mean that they’ll win. Picking apart your opponent is the key. The most fun thing to see is watching your opponent give up because you’ve taken away their strategy. It’s not fun when it happens to you, but it’s a good feeling oth­erwise. Morgan Delp can execute strategy better than anyone I’ve ever seen.

 

What are some of the strengths of our team?

How pos­itive they are … and their moti­vation is huge. They’re always happy to be out on the court and they get along so well. They also know what it takes to keep trying until they win. Someone can be a good player, but if they’re not willing to go out there and have fun, they’re not going to do well. Our girls have fun.

 

What are your goals and expec­ta­tions for next year?

Just not to go in reverse. I want the team to keep improving and get better, go back to GLIAC, and place higher than we did this year. But, at the end of the day, the goal is always to win the tour­nament.

 

Any par­ticular goals you have for yourself as a coach?

I always have goals for myself. A strong recruiting class, pushing the team to improve in the off-season, being cre­ative in my coaching style, and just keep improving. And then also making sure they excel in the classroom. A big goal is to get the team GPA up. It’s really important that our girls get a good edu­cation.

 

Are tennis and aca­d­emics really com­patible?

Being really busy and having a set schedule made me more suc­cessful in both the classroom and on the court. I wouldn’t trade my expe­rience for any­thing in the world. It was the best decision I could have made. Most impor­tantly, the com­bi­nation taught me time man­agement. In real life, you’re busy so it helps you prepare for that.

 

— Com­piled by Tory Cooney