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Iowa not a tennis Eden for recruits

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | MARCH 5, 2009 7:19 AM

Iowa women’s tennis head coach Daryl Greenan sits in his office surfing tennis websites, looking to find the next Hawkeye star. He regularly checks out sites such as tennisrecruiting.net and collegetennisonline.com to search for recruits from all over the United States to bring in to his program.

Unfortunately for him, when he searches the state of Iowa, the list is considerably shorter than most other states.

“There’s not a hotbed of players in the state of Iowa,” Greenan said. “But I’m definitely keeping an eye on up-and-coming young Iowa players. I’ll be ready when they are.”

The Hawkeyes have one player on its roster from the state: Junior co-captain Jen Barnes is from Bettendorf. However, Greenan did not recruit her; she decided to walk on the team her sophomore year of college after missing the sport.

Barnes had a good high-school experience, but she remembers college coaches looking more at competitive tournament results rather than high-school-associated matches. She is optimistic for tennis’ future in Iowa.

“I think there’s potential for tennis in Iowa to be good and develop,” she said.

Iowa does not produce large numbers of tennis recruits for several reasons. Beyond a general lack of popularity, the climate is what limits prospects from playing outside year round, and renting indoor court time is expensive. There also are not as many indoor and outdoor facilities as Greenan thinks there should be, as well as not enough junior developmental programs around the state to produce players and build the popularity of the sport.

This comes frustrating to Greenan. He acknowledges the good high-school coaches in the state from whom he receives e-mails about players to take a look at. However, nine times out of 10, the players aren’t the type of athletes he is looking for.

“I’ll always be the first one in line to recruit top players in the state of Iowa if her game is at a Big Ten level,” he said. “I’ll also be the first one to explain the other opportunities out there for someone who reaches a certain level, but just not quite the Big Ten level.”

He doesn’t want to stir up controversy when discussing the weak tennis in the state; he simply looks at the facts. There are currently five women’s tennis players in Iowa’s high-school senior class listed on tennisrecruiting.net. The top player, Christine McGaffigan, is from Bettendorf. Greenan went after the 50th best senior nationally but lost out on McGaffigan to Notre Dame. The next best senior in Iowa is ranked No. 340 in the nation, and the fifth player on the list is ranked No. 739. The drop off and lack of depth is clear.

The Big Ten is an extremely competitive conference. Northwestern is the No. 1 team in the nation, with Michigan and Ohio State not far behind at Nos. 19 and 35.

Recruiting is a tricky process, and Greenan knows he cannot settle for average players if he wants to keep his job.

“I get e-mails weekly of kids to evaluate,” Greenan said. “We take a quick look and do some research. But 95 percent of the e-mails we get, we can tell at a glance whether or not they will fit in here and make our line-up or make our team better.”

Some people question the opportunities for Iowa high school players to continue playing in college, but Greenan argues the opportunities are there if players look for them.

“The ones who aren’t getting opportunities aren’t playing at a high enough level of tennis to deserve it,” Greenan said. “Pretty much any American girl who has put in two, three, four full years of training has an opportunity to get a scholarship in the United States.

“It just might not be to the school of their choice; it might not be Iowa.”


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