A friendly atmosphere, warmer temperatures and merging traffic were just a few of the conditions that made head women’s tennis coach Mark Wesselink want to stay at the University of Richmond.
“One year down here, I thought, I couldn’t believe how great this place was,” Wesselink said. “People were so friendly down here, they even let you merge in traffic. I just love this place.”
Wesselink, who previously spent time coaching at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has now been at UR for 28 years.
Wesselink recently reached his 400th win as the Spiders' head women's tennis coach during a late-night match on Feb. 16 against Towson University, Wesselink said. But his players were so exhausted that night that none of them realized his accomplishment, he said.
Wesselink said nobody had been in a celebratory mood.
"I didn't bring it up and nobody else did either," he said. "We just got in the van and drove back."
It was only the next day at practice that sophomore tennis player Emily Dunbar and teammates became aware of the significance of the win and congratulated Wesselink.
Dunbar said Wesselink had not made a big deal about it, and that Wesselink had simply said, "Oh yeah, we were all tired."
Dunbar, who has two brothers who played men’s tennis at UR, described Wesselink as relaxed, something she looked for in a coach.
“I love Mark,” Dunbar said. “I’m not someone who wants someone really intense."
Dunbar said Wesselink was a coach who wanted his team members to come together on the court and start off every match well.
Wesselink often reminds his team members to have a lot of energy – especially in doubles games – bring their intensity and have fun, Dunbar said.
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“He really cares,” she said. “He is invested in his team, and even though he is relaxed, he really cares about us as a person. He gives a lot of support and comfort on the court.”
Junior Lea Owens shared this sentiment. She talked about how she had liked Wesselink the first time they had met, when he was recruiting her in high school.
“He’s very supportive, and you can tell he loves us a lot,” Owens said. “He really wishes us success on and off the court. He’s very humble."
Owens also said Wesselink motivated players to "find it" within themselves.
But Wesselink does not take the credit for his success as head coach. He instead puts the spotlight on athletes he has worked with during his career, as well as on UR's athletics department.
“I think I’m a little self-conscious about celebrating because I just feel like I love coaching,” Wesselink said. “It’s a tribute to my team, really, so if I can spread the positive vibes out to all of them and appreciation out to all of them, they really deserve it. They’ve worked hard.”
Wesselink said he understood the hard work that athletes have to do both academically and athletically when they commit to a Division I university. He said that as a coach, he wanted to be there for his players and support them in any way that he could.
“You can ride a roller coaster with college-aged people,” Wesselink said. “Things are very important, very intense, very stressful, and so I try and find a middle ground for them.
“Yes, it’s intense. Yes, we're working hard. There’s pressure to win. But at the same time, it’s a process you should enjoy and when it’s over, if you don’t enjoy it, you’re going to regret it because you don’t get a chance like this very often."
Wesselink said he also wanted his athletes to know that their college degrees were just as important as being on the tennis team.
“I talk about how great our academics are because, in the long run, we are training for them to play satellite and maybe become pro,” Wesselink said. “We want them to try and work towards that level, but we recognize that the degree really, in the long run, is going to be important.”
According to the Richmond Spiders website, Wesselink reached his 200th career victory in UR's 2000 Colonial Athletic Association Tournament win over James Madison University. He hit the 300th career victory mark in the Spiders' 4-3 win over Boston University on March 12, 2009.
When asked whether he would continue coaching to receive his 500th win, Wesselink said, “I jokingly talk about that. But I love coaching, and as long as I can do it well and we have successful teams, then I’ll probably hang in there.”
Contact features writer Kyla Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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