Night at Net sees jump in popularity


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High-school student Jamie Stewart and her father journeyed an hour and a half through a typical Iowa snowstorm this past weekend to play the game she loves with the team she adores.

“I follow the girls on Twitter … I saw that and thought, ‘Oh, that would be fun, to get out and play with older people,’ ” she said.

The Iowa men’s and women’s tennis teams hosted Night at the Net on Feb. 8. The event was open to children ages 6 and up, as well as adults of all skill levels.

Night at the Net was a time of laid-back fun for the women’s team and, perhaps more importantly, a chance to interact with the tennis community.

With a near equal turnout for adults and children at the event, all had the chance to showcase their abilities with the Hawkeyes — a perfect opportunity for the players to interact with the fans whlo follow them religiously.

Fans such as Vale Caro.

Caro, 14, is an avid Hawkeye tennis fan who can be seen playing the sport at the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex almost daily. She is nearly always in attendance at the home meets with her father.

“We’ve been playing here every day for the past two years … we always come, we follow the team really closely,” Vale said.

The popularity of the women’s tennis team, along with tennis as a whole, is clearly on the rise. The large turnout for the event compared with last year’s demonstrates that.

Women’s head coach Katie Dougherty attributes this interest increase to the abilities of the marketing team and the Athletics Department, as well as the players’ skills.

“It was a fantastic turnout,” Dougherty said. “The popularity of tennis in the area is growing. With our facility being as fantastic as it is, more and more people in the area are playing tennis, and our visibility has increased significantly.”

This was the first year the event was held at the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex. The facility boasts eight courts indoors with 12 more outside.  In 2009, it won the Iowa Tennis Association Facility of the Year Award. In addition, it also received the U.S. Tennis Association Missouri Valley Facility of the Year Award.

The inclement winter weather didn’t seem to deter the Iowa tennis fans. With such a massive increase in popularity, the enrollment was up exponentially from last year despite all the snow.

“The majority of our fans are tennis players,” Dougherty said. “Getting to mix it up with them and spend time with them … for them to get to know our athletes personally is important.”

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