When MSU Denver introduced Barrett Elkins as Daniel Hangstefer’s successor as tennis head coach just two days before the 2017 season opener, it filled a conspicuous void at the helm that existed since the end of spring.
“We were ready for a new voice,” said MSU Denver senior Courtney Wright. “We’re all sad to see him go, but we know that he’ll do well and we really like our new coach.”
The MSU Denver tennis team is coming off of a strong 2017 campaign. Both the men’s and women’s team were crowned conference champions at the end of last spring under Hangstefer, who took the same job at Ferris State University this offseason. MSU Denver’s head tennis coach position was empty until MSU Denver athletics announced Elkins’ hiring on Sept. 11. Though they will miss Hangstefer’s impact, senior Josh Graetz and the rest of the team are prepared for a future under Elkins.
“Change can be good. He was the head coach of a good school. They beat us, actually.” Graetz said, referring to Young Harris College. “He’s just going to bring a different perspective which, in retrospect, can make us better.”
Before coming to MSU Denver, Elkins enjoyed success at multiple levels. He was a club tennis pro at a junior academy in Florida, the head coach at Ave Maria University for four years as well as Young Harris in Georgia for five. Under Elkins, Young Harris enjoyed three consecutive seasons with a national ranking, an NCAA tournament appearance in 2015 and set single season wins records each year for the tennis program.
Graetz spent four years learning from Hangstefer, and was caught off guard by the lack of a coach over the offseason.
“There were only two or three of us over the summer that were training,” Graetz said. “A couple weeks into school starting we didn’t have a coach, which was interesting, to say the least.”
But despite the lack of a leader, the Roadrunners have embraced the change Elkins brings while maintaining their commitment to winning. Wright thinks that both the men and women should win the conference again.
“It’s been pretty fun,” Wright said. “I don’t think the atmosphere has changed much. We just have to keep it up and I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”
Any question as to whether or not Elkins and his players could work together were quickly put to rest Thursday night. MSU Denver opened the season against the University of Nebraska-Kearney and showed signs of promise. Graetz managed to defeat Joey Richards, the top singles player for UNK, in straight sets.
Wright, MSU Denver’s second ranked women’s singles player, struggled early against UNK’s Yuxiu Sun and lost the first set 3-6. But under the calm presence and direction of her coach, Wright was able to take the next two sets 6-3 and 7-5. MSU Denver men’s and women’s teams both ultimately fell to UNK, 6-3, but the players couldn’t dispute the effect Elkins has already had on the team.
But Elkins’ competitiveness and focus is not without a fun side.
“He seems hardworking but likes to have fun and he’ll joke with us at practice,” Wright said. “He seems like a very reasonable, levelheaded man.”
Both Wright and Graetz attested to the charisma in their coach.
“He’s very friendly, very easy to get along with and that’s probably the most important thing. If you don’t have that communication in there and that trust with your coach then nothing’s going to work,” Graetz said.
The feeling was mutual as Elkins commended the ability of his players to make his arrival smooth.
“The team has made it so easy for me. Honestly, I was worried about how tough it would be, but they’re so motivated,” he said. “They were mentally ready. They wanted to do it, but I think the preparation they were doing on their own was the wrong kind of preparation.”
Elkins noted how some players began cramping before the second set and said stamina is among his most valued aspects of player development and plans to incorporate it into practice as soon as possible.
Although as of the evening of Sept. 14 he was still working to memorize the last names of his players, he remains eager to progress through the season and continue the winning tradition at MSU Denver.w