As far as Richmond men's tennis is concerned, there's a "new sheriff in town," first-year head coach Ben Johnson.
Coaching changes among varsity college teams are common, but this particular varsity team has gone through a couple in a very short amount of time. Just three years ago, the Spider men's tennis team bid adieu to Steven Gerstenfeld, the head coach of 17 years, amid some controversy.
Enter Billy Boykin. An upstart assistant coach from Davidson College, Boykin clicked immediately with most of his players and successfully recruited some big-time players in attempts to lead the Spiders to the top of the Atlantic-10 ranks.
After finishing ninth in the conference in Gerstenfeld's last full season as coach, Boykin led the team to eighth in 2007 to 2008, ninth in 2008 to 2009 and eighth in 2009 to 2010. Despite the low finishes, everyone on the team seemed certain his coaching was helping the Spiders improve each season. During the offseason Boykin abruptly left to fill the void left by his father in the head coaching position at the University of Charlotte.
Johnson said: "The only reason Billy left was because he was taking over for his father, so I think it was just a matter of legacy. Gerstenfeld, maybe towards his last years, was letting the program slide a little bit, and I think Billy really picked this team up and I just give him a lot of credit in terms of his recruiting and the way he was managing the budget and scholarships."
With a void left by Boykin's absence, the Richmond athletic department went back to the assistant coaching ranks at Davidson and found Ben Johnson. Moving from North Carolina to Virginia and from assistant to head coach is often a difficult transition for one person to make so quickly, he said.
"It's a lot more in terms of balancing the budget and taking care of a lot of off court issues." Johnson said. "I love this city and this university. I'm hoping, with a little bit more time, I can see more of the community."
Senior Rafael Arana has been on the team during all of the recent coaching changes. Recruited initially to play on Gerstenfeld's team, Arana expects this year to play as high as fourth singles.
Concerning Gerstenfeld, Arana said, "I didn't get to experience much with him. After a month that I was here, he was gone."
Nevertheless, Arana did grow closer to his second coach.
"He was the man," said Arana. "As a coach, he was able to put the tennis program back on track. He did a great job recruiting with the guys that were here and I only have positive thoughts about him."
Arana is still getting used to Johnson, saying that he seems to be "able to keep up what [Boykin] did, moving in the right direction as well." But he also made note of how hard it has been with all the instability with the coaches during his tenure.
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"It hasn't been easy to be honest," Arana said. "It's been quite the experience; we've been getting better and better, which makes me sometimes think 'What am I doing here?' but I'm excited with the new coach being here."
So far this season, the Richmond men's tennis team has played in three fall season tournaments, competing well with some tough competition.
"I expect us to compete," Johnson said. "We are in the fall season and are still looking for our identity. I'll have a better idea in about a month to really our goals, but in terms of the Atlantic 10, I knows we can compete for an A-10 title.
Contact reporter David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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