Sports

New coach brings hope for men’s tennis

Missing two of last year’s key players, leadership seeks to correct tennis team’s trajectory

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 2014

Jacob Laser ’15 smashes a forehand shot at his opponent. Laser is one of just two seniors left on a Bears squad lacking upperclassman leadership.

With a new head coach and missing two of last year’s upperclassmen, the men’s tennis team prepares to open its fall season with the Brown Invitational starting Friday.

Head Coach Bryan Koniecko inherits a squad that went just 1-6 in Ivy League play last season. Hired less than a month ago, the Ohio State University grad replaces Dave Schwarz, who led the Bears for four years but now heads west to become head coach at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Koniecko spent the 2010 -11 and 2011-12 seasons as an assistant at Brown before working as an assistant on his alma mater’s women’s tennis team the past two seasons.

The first-time head coach is diving head first into his responsibilities.

“I’ve been settled in for a couple weeks already,” he said. With help from some of his friends in coaching, Koniecko is learning the ropes and already shaping the direction of his team. His two main focuses thus far have been recruiting and player development, with an eye towards making the squad the best it can be this year and in years to come.

But Koniecko enters his new position with a built-in challenge. Over the summer, three-year players Daniel Hirschberg ’15 and Will Spector ’15 chose not to play their senior seasons, leaving the Bears with a dearth of upperclassman leadership.

The story behind the players’ departures is no scandal. They made their decisions independently, but cited similar logic: a desire to spend their final year enjoying the school tennis brought them to.

“I’ve been playing tennis since I was 10,” Spector said. “I felt like I was an athlete before anything else, even a student. … I wanted to have an experience where I was a student.”

Hirschberg said being on the team was “a really huge commitment” and described feeling “burnt out of tennis.” He added that quitting “enabled me to do other things I wanted to try at Brown.”

Both said the decision was difficult, and they were uncertain of their status until right before the start of the school year. They were also adamant that their choices had nothing to do with any sort of dissatisfaction with the team. Spector and Hirschberg said they remain in close contact with their former teammates.

The coaching change was an influential factor in the players’ choices, but not how one might assume. Koniecko was an assistant during their freshman season, and he said he had a “great relationship” with them. “I actually considered staying on because of that,” Hirschberg said.

Though the players clearly left on good terms, the team goes on without them. Even without half of his senior class, Koniecko said he is “very happy” with his team.

A realist, Koniecko acknowledged that ascending to the top of the Ivy League may be an unfair goal. He made no grandiose predictions for this season. “I just want them to get a lot better,” he said.

Though there are few trophies in the short-term outlook, Koniecko seems to have a plan to return the Bears to long-term contention, as evidenced by his investment in recruiting. Only days into his tenure, Koniecko has already begun speaking with recruits.

“I know that it’s a process, and I’m ready for that challenge,” he said.

The first step in his journey is the Brown Invitational, which included eight teams from around New England last year. It begins Friday.

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