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Men's tennis thinking inside the boxing

BY AMIE KIEHN | FEBRUARY 17, 2009 7:40 AM

Tuesday is “Fightin’ Day” for the Iowa men’s tennis team.

Assistant coach Steve Nash loves it.

He walks onto the courts clad in his brightest, sunshine yellow Hawkeye T-shirt, sporting a beguiling grin. Swung over his shoulder is the large black bag filled with boxing gloves.

The 10 Hawkeye players at practice each grab a pair, anticipating what is coming next — sweat. Lots and lots of sweat.

“Picture Denver in front of you,” Nash yells, as the players smack the padded beams along the courts in the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex.

The sting still remains from Iowa’s crushing 4-3 loss against Denver on Feb. 8. The moment Nash mentions the team’s only defeat in the season thus far, junior Patrick Dwyer’s punches hit with rapid ferocity.

Smack. Smack. Smack, smack.

“It is a great workout,” Dwyer said. “I mean, every day working that hard, it pays off. So it’s nice to be doing something that has a good end result like this does. “I mean, look at me … I am dying.”

Nash understands the difficulty of his boxing workout and the effect it has on his players’ lungs, triceps, biceps, and core. As sweat absorbs into the player’s cotton shirts, Nash is assured there are no “soft” players on this tennis team.

“It’s intense, and that’s kind of what we want,” said Nash, whose in his second season as assistant coach. “We want these guys to get more intense when they’re on the court, to engage in a fight like, ‘We got to win this.’ A lot of times tennis players are seen as kind of soft, so that is kind of what we want to change.

“We don’t want soft guys; we want strong guys.”



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Nash’s unique conditioning now serves as a valuable part of the Iowa tennis program, but at first, some were skeptical.

“I thought some of it was crazy, and guys on the team did, too,” head coach Steve Houghton said.
Nash agrees that when he first brought out the boxing gloves, not everyone was as enthusiastic as he was.

“A third of them thought it was awesome,” he said. “A third were hesitant, and a third didn’t want anything to do with it, which is fine because you’re going to get that.”

Despite the few nonbelievers in the beginning, the reason he originally introduced boxing has served its purpose.

“I am a believer in making them as uncomfortable as possible when we practice,” Nash said. “When they play, it should be a lot like, ‘This is great. I feel so good, and I don’t have Steve doing this weird stuff on me.’”

Dwyer has become a believer, and he enjoys channeling Muhammad Ali or Rocky Balboa when strapping on the gloves at practice.

“You are excited to do something besides just run sprints,” he said. “I mean as an athlete, we’ve been doing that our whole lives; it gets kind of boring.

“It’s awesome to introduce a new element to it, but it’s tough. It’s not exactly something you look forward to every day — to go and work yourself that hard — but it is good to have a group of guys that motivated.”


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