Men’s tennis players, coaches reflect on their time at Iowa

Players and coaches from the men’s tennis team – one of the four sports to be discontinued beginning next year – reflect on their past in the Black and Gold.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s Kareem Allaf celebrates a point during a men’s tennis match between Iowa and Western Michigan at the HTRC on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. The Hawkeyes defeated the Broncos, 4-3.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

After starting last spring season at 12-2 through the first 14 matches and defeating a top-20 opponent at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center on March 8, Iowa men’s tennis was set up for its best season in program history.

In head coach Ross Wilson’s eighth season at the helm, his efforts to build the program from the ground up were finally producing the on-court results that he had been waiting for.

“It’s not just the dream anymore,” Wilson said. “It’s not just talk. You’ve stacked good days on top of good days, on top of good days, on top of good days for years and now you’re seeing the success.”

But the spring season was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Aug. 21., the men’s tennis team learned that it would be cut from the athletics department after this academic year, along with three other programs.

Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta said the athletics department is anticipating $100 million in lost revenue and an overall deficit of between $60-75 million this fiscal year. Barta noted that cutting the four teams will save the athletics department more than $5 million annually.

For men’s tennis, the discontinuation will halt the program’s steady rise for the past eight years, including missing out on the 2019 NCAA tournament by one spot.

“[Last year] the vision was we were six weeks away from being in the Feller Club Room [inside of Carver-Hawkeye Arena] finding out that we made the NCAA tournament for the first time, and then it got stripped away,” redshirt senior Jason Kerst said. “So, the decision was instantaneous for me that I was coming back [for another year of eligibility] because that dream was still alive. At this point, I don’t know if that dream is still possible.”

The program’s improvements wouldn’t have stopped after simply reaching the NCAA tournament. Wilson had laid the foundation with the current team for the Iowa men’s tennis program to be successful for a long time, especially with the reach he has established overseas.

“We’ve had players in this program from over 20 countries who would’ve never come to the University of Iowa unless they had the opportunity to play men’s tennis here,” Wilson said. “I go to England and work hard for seven years to get Iowa a good name there and to bring awareness to the university and it’s a great name.”

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Being a part of the men’s tennis program and building a winning culture was not just about on-the-court success or recruiting good players, but also establishing a close-knit bond off the court. Building a team that can withstand hardships.

“The biggest thing is how you lean on others and how others lean on you,” Kerst said. “The importance of encouraging others, supporting others, reaching out when you’re the person who’s struggling and needs help.”

If indeed the last men’s tennis match has already been played at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center, the team has shown grit, fight, and passion on and off the court and certainly left its mark at Iowa.

If it hasn’t and the group gets one more go around this spring, expect something special.

“It would be like the movie 300,” redshirt senior Kareem Allaf said. “We’re going to war. We’re going to put everything out there.”

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