When the new head tennis coach, Cory Hubbard, visited Rose Hill for the first time, he had an inkling that Fordham was a “sleeping giant.”
“I asked myself, ‘Is this a place where I would want to come to, as an athlete?’ It seemed to have everything; a beautiful campus, great academics and location.”
What he could contribute, he thought, was a high level of coaching experience to build an up-and-coming tennis program over a few years that would attract some new tennis talent.
Hubbard knows a thing or two about college tennis. The Texas native spent four years at Texas A&M on a team ranked in the top 20, where he was the recipient of the 2000 Aggie Heart Award for his overall contribution to the team.
After college, Hubbard worked as an assistant coach at Texas Christian University, helping the Horned Frogs advance to three straight NCAA tournaments and coaching nine All-Conference USA players as well as the 2004-2005 Conference USA Player of the Year. In 2004, he guided the Frogs to a No. 5 national ranking and was a finalist for ITA National Coach of the Year.
He was eventually lured into the private sector by a job in Long Island. But, even there, Hubbard’s desire to coach persisted.
“Coaching is my passion,” said Hubbard, who once beat tennis pro Andy Roddick in a match when they were both youngsters. “The Fordham position was a perfect fit. I really felt I could sell the University and recruit players looking to play at the Division I level with a high level of academics.”
Once he began recruiting last fall, Hubbard was surprised by the response he got from the students he pursued. Targeting for an addition of four incoming players for the 2011-2012 year, Hubbard made offers to eight players—just to be safe.
All eight players accepted.
“Everyone I talked to believed in what I was selling,” Hubbard said, “which is a chance to come into a program that has had little success recently and to be part of turning it around. They believed in my coaching philosophy and vision and that appealed to them more than going to an established program. And it takes a special kind of athlete to want that challenge and to believe they can do it.”
With its base in the Northeast, the Atlantic 10 (A-10) is not among the nation’s elite tennis conferences. Since tennis is traditionally a warm-weather sport, the top schools tend to be clustered in the Southwest and Southeast, Hubbard said.
But recent A-10 activity gives promise to rejuvenate the sport in this part of the country, which lately has been attracting international tennis talent as well as more domestic talent because of its excellent academics and proximity to business.
Proof is in the recent recruitment rankings by Tennis Recruiting Network, which ranked Hubbard’s first recruiting class fifth best among mid-major schools nationally. Among all schools, the class was ranked 27th.
And Fordham is not the only A-10 school ranked highly this year; George Washington was ranked third among the mid-major schools; the University of Charlotte was ranked sixth; and two other A-10 schools, Duquesne and Richmond, placed in the top 30.
“There are a lot of new coaches in the A-10, and I believe the level of the conference is on the way up,” Hubbard said. “This is great, because it will make the division more competitive and able to get into the national rankings. My goal is to win a conference championship and to make the NCAA tourney.”
Who are the new recruits?
Four of the new players come from other countries: Srikar Alla from India; Jan Krouham from Mexico; Shuo Wang from China; and Polish-born Kuba Kowalski, who transferred from San Diego State in September and had to sit out until this coming year. Of the American players, two of the new recruits, Jonahiby Tauil and Michael Puntillo, are from Long Island, where Hubbard had been coaching for the past few years.
Tennis is much more popular internationally than it is in the United States, said Hubbard; therefore there are a lot of junior international players who are looking for American universities.
But it is also important, said Hubbard, to “recruit locally” as locals understand best how college sports teams function.
“At college you are playing against an opponent but there are five other guys playing as well,” Hubbard said. “So you are essentially all playing for each other. That forces you—when things aren’t going your way—to still dig within yourself to do your best. The best feeling is when you are able to win as a team.”
Hubbard is looking forward to climbing the A-10 rankings and digging in at Fordham. But following in the footsteps of longtime Fordham tennis coach Bob Hawthorn, who passed away in March, is no small feat, Hubbard said. However, the best way he can fill “big shoes” is to build a winning team in Hawthorn’s honor.
“I want make the program one that is ranked nationally,” he said. “That is the best way to honor all the work he did here as an ambassador for Fordham and for the sport.”