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Sophomore tennis standout reflects on first season as a Hawkeye

BY KEVIN GLUECK | SEPTEMBER 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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Most freshmen athletes usually spend a year or two on the sidelines learning from veteran players on the court. This wasn’t the case for Matt Hagan.

Hagan won the Iowa men’s tennis team’s “Newcomer of the Year Award” as a freshman last season. He was the first Iowa freshman to win a Big Ten No. 1 singles match since former Hawkeye star Tyler Cleveland did it in 1998.

“I think it was just a really good experience,” Hagan said. “I didn’t think I was going to play that high. My goal was to play top in the lineup.”

Hagan said playing against top players in the conference helped him learn how to adjust to higher caliber opponents. He said he took something away from every match during his run at the top singles position.

“Seeing what they do against me and learning how other players play and how they win at the college level helps,” he said.

Head coach Steve Houghton believes that Hagan handled the leading singles spot with poise.

“He handled the situation well and was ready to go the next day no matter what might have happened before,” Houghton said. “He had the right mentality to handle playing No. 1 pretty well.”

Hagan said it helped playing with older players such as then-junior Garret Dunn and his doubles partner, then-sophomore Jonas Dierckx.

“They gave me as many pointers as possible,” Hagan said.

Playing on a team differed from playing as an individual, he said.

“It’s a lot different than junior tennis, because in junior tennis you’re playing for yourself,” he said.

“College tennis, you’re playing for your team. I think that gives you a lot more motivation when you’re fighting for your team … you don’t want to let down guys on your school and guys on your team.”

Hagan and Dierckx had a great amount of success last year, including the Flight B main draw at the Big Ten championships.

“It was awesome to come in as a freshman and make a name for myself,” Hagan said. “I wasn’t expecting to win that tournament.”

Assistant coach Steve Nash said Hagan and Dierckx worked well together.

“Jonas is faster at net, and Matt has a bigger game,” the aide said. “Jonas returns really well, Matt serves really well. They tend help each other out because Matt serves so big, Jonas can move at net well.”

Houghton said the combination of the finesse play of 5-9 Dierckx alongside the power play of 6-6 Hagan is a change of pace that throws off opponents.

Whether it’s doubles or singles, Hagan will try to use what he learned last year and refine his game for the upcoming season.

“Last year, playing really high in the lineup helped me get experience, because I’ve seen the best players in the Big Ten,” he said. “I know what level they’re at. Now I know how hard I have to work to be at that level.”


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