Story by Dominic Johnson
The seniors on Drake University men’s tennis team are an experienced group of four, and they have faced no shortage of challenges throughout their four-year tenure in Des Moines.
James McKie, Anis Ghorbel*, Jean Erasmus and Ryan Drake have not only faced challenges against opponents, but also with the uncertainty of who will lead them through each season. After three coaching changes in four years, the only constant the four players have had is each other.
The constant shuffling of head coaches has provided numerous challenges for the team, but the situation has made it even stronger, helping the Bulldogs reach a program-high No. 16 in the nation this season.
When Drake’s current group of seniors first arrived on campus, Drake had just hired Jimmy Borendame after former head coach Chase Hodges left for Georgia State in the summer of 2009. McKie and Drake were recruited by Hodges, so they experienced the uncertainty of Drake’s coaching situation before playing a match as Bulldogs.
When a coach leaves in the middle of the summer, the Drake administration has to conduct a national search. By the time a coach has been hired and actually arrives in Des Moines, fall classes have already started. This has happened three times with the hiring of Borendame, Evan Austin and current head coach Davidson Kozlowski.
“Usually, it happens over the summer, and then for the first two or three months, we are on our own to figure out what to do every day,” Drake said.
While many would find this situation chaotic, the four senior Bulldogs agreed that it makes the team closer-knit, something that has proven to benefit them as the season continues.
“It creates a lot of strength within the team for bonding and leadership, but we are left to ourselves in the tennis center,” Drake said. “The balls are in
One of the biggest issues with having so many different head coaches is that it takes a long time to get accustomed to each coach’s style and way of running things. McKie said he thought it took at least a semester to get used to each coach. By that estimation, these seniors have spent three out of their eight semesters at Drake just getting used to a new coach. How that lack of continuity has affected them is hard to quantify.
“It takes a while to get used to the new coach,” Erasmus said. “Some of the things (current head coach) Davidson (Kozlowski) does is still new to us. He’s showed us a lot of different doubles movement and techniques that I’ve never seen in my life that have been very helpful for the team.”
Despite the issues it has raised, the seniors only focus on the positives the coaching changes have brought to the team.
“At first it is hard to deal with, but from my perspective, I’m looking at it as a huge positive,” McKie said. “We’ve all got to know three great guys who are now a connection for us for later (in) life.”
A number of the current Bulldogs look to continue playing tennis professionally after graduating and possibly pursue coaching after that. Having had three coaches, they now have three different people to turn to for advice on how to succeed in the industry.
“They can be really helpful in the future if you want to be a college coach or something,” Ghorbel said. “Having a contact with them is pretty helpful and useful. They would definitely help you.”
The four seniors also mentioned that the adversity they faced has improved their leadership on and off the court. After all, they are not the only Drake players to adjust to a new coach. By having that experience, they can help their teammates adjust.
“Having this happen to us seniors, we are able to help the freshmen on the team, the sophomores on the team,” Drake said. “We’ve been through these experiences, and it keeps us as leaders on and off the court.”
*Editor’s Note: Since the interviews and reporting for this story were conducted, Anis Ghorbel left the Drake men’s tennis team.