Welcome to Interview #16.
I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NCAA Division 2 Assistant Tennis Coach, Maria Lopez of Barry University.
Maria Lopez has been the assistant women’s tennis coach at Barry University since 2012. Barry University is a powerhouse in women’s tennis. In Coach Lopez’s three seasons the women’s tennis team has compiled an incredible 79-4 record, one National Championship and two Runner up seasons.
Coach Lopez is responsible for on-court coaching, player development, recruiting and administrative duties.
In 2012 and2013, Lopez was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Assistant Coach of the Year.
Where do you most often find players of Division 2 championship quality for your team?
Most of the players on our roster are International Student-Athletes. Finding quality players for our program is not an easy task. We are also always competing with local Division I teams around the area with similar level of play. Most players are not aware of the high level of competition of top Division II Programs. We would love to recruit more American Players, but they often rule out our program and rather go to a Division I or III Program. Recruiting includes top junior tournaments, coaches and player’s referral, good relationships with recruiting companies that know the level of play of our program.
What would a timeline look like for your recruiting of a typical player? What kind of communication do you send out and when?
Recruiting is a non-stop process; we often have to be looking ahead. There is never a set timeline as we deal with players on a case by case basis. Some of them are prepared and have taken the tests, applied to the NCAA clearinghouse and have their transcripts ready. More often than not players, especially the international players, are not aware of all the paperwork involved to become eligible to play college tennis, and the process might be longer in these cases. We often find ourselves talking to players in their Senior Year, although some of them are more proactive and start the process their Junior Year. We send out information as soon as possible to the PSA in order to get them accepted as quickly as possible.
What is your view of the high school verse USTA experience for tennis players who want to play in college?
They both have their advantages in the recruiting process. Most top high school players are involved playing USTA or ITF tournaments. The high school player brings team experience which most USTA players alone do not have. It is often a challenge as a Collegiate Coach to turn individual players into team players. As a coach I would recommend any player that is looking to play collegiate tennis to participate in both. It will give the player certain qualities which will benefit them when they transition into college tennis.
What are the yearly expectations in and out of season?
Our program has traditionally been very successful in the last decade or so. We do our best to recruit players that are passionate about the sport, that can commit to the program and understand that what they do or do not do as individuals during their off season and summer affects the team. Tennis is a year round sport, and we expect them to continuously be in good shape when we are not with them during the off season in order to continue to become better players. Fall season is our ‘off season”, but we still play individual tournaments where they represent themselves and the university, the hours and rules are very different at this time, therefore they need to keep in good shape in order to perform at their highest level. As coaches we hope they continue to train hard and find as much competition as possible outside of their commitment with the university during their breaks in order to stay healthy and injury free.
What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen? If a tennis player personally contacts you by phone or email, what will you do next?
An email to introduce themselves is always a good idea. If a player contacts me by phone or email, I try to respond to their message as early as possible. I would then ask them to answer a few background questions about their tennis career, high school grades, NCAA Clearinghouse Status, and Test scores. We usually like to receive a video to have an idea of what their game looks like. If their level of tennis, academics, personality, and goals match the culture of our program we would usually want to have them come on an official visit, so that they can meet us and the team, practice, and visit our university.
How do you utilize social media in your recruiting? How do social media decisions affect the recruits you are looking at?
Social Media has been a big game-changer in College Recruiting. As coaches we have to keep up with all social media options. It has also helped us promote our program and for the future student-athletes to have an idea of what our players are like. We have had some recruits add some of my current players, to ask them more specific questions about their experience. Also, athletes nowadays need to understand that there are a lot of other qualities as coaches we are looking for outside of just their tennis game and their grades. We have access to a lot of their information, what they post and what they choose to share in their profiles say a lot about their character.
Could you share, in whatever detail you are comfortable, what the athletic scholarship break down looks like on your roster?
Most of our players are in some kind of scholarship, athletically and/or academically, more often than not we combined the two to be able to bring top recruits into our program. The majority of our top 6 players are in a full scholarship, and the others are in partial scholarships. Academics plays a big role for us. As a Division 2 program we can choose to split our scholarships between all of our players. We also love to have Walk-Ons in our program that want to be part of a top tennis program, improve their tennis, and experience college athletics.
How much coaching instruction is involved for collegiate tennis player? Is it like working with an individual tennis pro or do they mainly go out and play?
The advantage of playing college tennis is that you have on court coaching during matches. As opposed to juniors and most professional tournaments, we are able to go on court and discuss strategy. Every player is different, and on court coaching allows us to understand our players, as well as what we can work on during practice. It also helps us on how to guide them through certain situations, as we know tennis is a very mental game, having a connection with your coach who understands your game and can get the most out of you will give you a competitive edge in collegiate athletics.
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
The role of the parents can be as important as the student-athlete chooses to make them. We deal with a lot of international recruits, and sometimes the language barrier makes it difficult to communicate if they do not speak English. We do like them to make sure they ask any questions they might have; we want to assure them that their son/daughter is going a program where they will be treated like family, and can trust us with their kids. We do appreciate student-athletes who are proactive about doing things on their own which shows accountability, discipline and responsibility, some of the qualities we look for in our PSA.
How has playing collegiate tennis impacted your life and the life of your alumni? (feel free to give personal stories)
College tennis is by far the best experience a tennis player can have, four years sharing their time in a program where they get to do what they love, get a degree, and be part of a successful team. The friendships you create with your teammates, the relationship with your coaches and mentors, the experiences of sharing day in and day out with people who have the same goals as you is something indescribable. We often have our alumni come back and talk about their experience, and how those were the best years of their lives. Fours years seem like a long time when they step in as Freshmen, but when they are playing that last match as Seniors, and are ready to move on to a different path in their lives, the emotions, and the time seems like it just flew by.
Bonus Question: Is there anything important that you would like to share directly with high school athletes or tennis players in particular as they navigate the recruiting process?
College athletics is one of the most fun experiences one can have as an athlete. Be proactive, ask questions. Choose a school that you like based on the people that you will spend the next four years of your lives with. The coaches, the players, the athletic department. Cherish each moment, time goes by really fast. Compete, and compete hard.
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