Feb. 16, 2007
IOWA CITY, IA - During Steve Houghton's career at the helm of the men's tennis program, he's seen a lot of ups and downs. With non-revenue sports being dropped all over the country, there was a time when Houghton his program was in jeopardy. The West Campus Project, a $12 million project to up-date three sports' facilities, ended his concern.
Part of the project was the construction of the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex, which gave men's and women's tennis 12 outdoor courts, eight indoor courts, and new locker rooms. The complex will allow the tennis programs to compete with other universities, from a recruiting standpoint, and provide better training facilities.
Houghton recalls talk about new tennis facilities for the past 10-15 years. But, it wasn't until a about two or three years ago that he felt like it was going to happen. The funding was the main issue.
"There was a short period of time when I was personally concerned about it (men's tennis being dropped)," said Houghton. "It certainly made us feel more secure when we knew the facility was going to be built."
On the women's side, Head Coach Daryl Greenan knew about the proposal for the new facility when he interviewed for the head coaching position in the fall of 2004. Before he was even able to accept the position, it was approved.
Greenan hopes that competing at the new facility will help bring renewed support from fans. He hopes it will create electricity and a new excitement for the girls.
"When we played at Coe College, we couldn't get people to drive 30 miles in the middle of winter to come up and support us. Hopefully we'll have several hundred people coming to watch us, eventually," said Greenan.
Having a place to call their own is something the programs are beginning to relish. The convenience appears to be a plus for the athletes.
"I've played at just about every tennis court we have in Iowa City just to make up for our lack of facilities. It's nice to come to the same place every day and get really familiar with the surroundings and atmosphere," said senior Hillary Mintz.
Another favorite for the players are the locker rooms and lounge areas, equipped with a big screen TV. Bart van Monsjou says the men's team plans to make good use of the area by coming to the facility prior to meets to play video games and hang out with teammates to build team spirit.
Both players and coaches of the teams all agree one of the best things is getting a normal playing surface which is consistent to that of where they will compete during away matches. What the teams had in the recreation building, in some ways, didn't even qualify as a real tennis surface. It was a home court advantage, but would become a problem when Hawkeye teams went on the road because they weren't used to playing on normal tennis courts.
"We would practice on that surface and then go play somewhere else where the surface was good and it would throw your timing off," said sophomore Greg Holm. "Now it's really consistent with every surface."
Junior J.P. Ritchie admits he didn't want to practice because of the surface in the recreation building.
"It's nice being able to practice on real courts," said Ritchie. "It's a lot easier to get motivated for practice. With the old facility you'd get so frustrated that you couldn't practice. It's easier to want to practice here."
Junior Jacqueline Lee admits when she visited Iowa and saw the team practice, playing on the surface in the recreation building didn't look too appealing. With the new facility, those thoughts shouldn't be running through minds of potential recruits. Both teams have thus far seen a positive impact this recruiting season, due in part to the new facility.
The women's team has already received commitments from three preps. The men's team has signed one, which Houghton believes wouldn't have come to Iowa if the program was still shaky with facilities.
"It's at the point now, when guys do visit here, this facility definitely helps," said Houghton. "They walk away with a good impression of the facilities which they didn't have before."
As the two programs continue to build, the new facilities will only help. Although they haven't had the facilities long, the athletes will surely enjoy them as long as they can. The next change will come later this month with the addition of scoreboards.
By Josh Mitchell, Iowa Sports Information